After years of spending time in the sun, our skin can develop growths known as actinic keratoses. They are caused by prolonged exposure to the sun’s UV rays, and can, unfortunately, develop into skin cancer if left untreated. If you have noticed red, scaly patches of skin that you have not seen before, it may be actinic keratosis. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Gray today for proper diagnosis and treatment.
What is Actinic Keratosis?
Actinic keratosis is a common form of precancer that develops on the skin due to long-term exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. It appears as a rough, scaly patch on the skin found on areas that are often exposed to the sun such as the face, lips, ears, scalp, neck, or forearms. These growths are slow-growing and usually appear in individuals over the age of 40. If they are left untreated, they may develop into squamous cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer.
Signs and symptoms of actinic keratosis include:
- Dry, rough, scaly patches of skin.
- May appear as flat, slightly raised, or a bump on the skin.
- Can appear as pink, red, or brown in color.
- Tenderness, burning, crusting, or bleeding.
Actinic Keratosis Treatment Options
In some cases, an actinic keratosis may disappear on its own, but return after the area is exposed to the sun. Because it can be difficult to determine which actinic keratoses will develop into skin cancer, we usually always remove them as a safety measure.
For treatment of more than one actinic keratoses, a medicated cream may be prescribed to remove them, such as fluorouracil, imiquimod, or Klisiri. Side effects of these products include temporary redness, scaling, or burning.
Surgery and Procedures
There is also a selection of surgical and procedural methods to address actinic keratosis, including:
Cryotherapy: Includes freezing the growths with liquid nitrogen. This will call the actinic keratosis to blister or peel, and as the skin heals, the damaged cells will fall off.
Curettage: During this technique, Dr. Gray uses a device called a curet to scrape away the damaged cells. This may be followed by electrosurgery, where a tool that emits an electric current is used to destroy the affected tissue. Local anesthesia is used to ensure your comfort.
Laser Therapy: An ablative laser can be used to destroy the actinic keratosis, allowing new and healthy skin to appear.
Tips for Preventing Actinic Keratosis
In order to prevent actinic keratosis from developing, be sure to take the necessary sun safety measures. These include limiting your time in the sun between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. when the sun is strongest, using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 when spending time outdoors, and reapplying every two to three hours, and avoiding the use of tanning beds. An annual skin check by your dermatologist can also help to detect skin cancers early, which can help treatment to be most effective.