DefinitionActinic keratosis (AK) is abnormal growth of the skin. It results in a rough, scaly, or crusted patch of skin. AK tends to occur on sun-damaged skin. AK is not cancer but it can sometimes change to squamous cell skin cancer. Treatment includes removing lesions and monitoring for skin cancer.
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CausesAK is caused by long term excessive sun exposure. Ultraviolet rays from sunlight can cause skin damage. Over time, this damage can cause abnormal growth of the skin such as AK.
Risk FactorsFactors that increase your chances of getting AK include:
- Fair skin color
- Easy sunburning
- Extra exposure to sun
- Occupations or pastimes in sunlight such as farmer, lifeguard, or athlete in outdoor sports
SymptomsSymptoms may include:
- Spotted or smeared red, thinning skin
- Rough, scaly, or crusted patches
DiagnosisYou will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. A biopsy of the lesion may be done. The skin will be closely examined for cancer.
TreatmentTalk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. AK lesions increase your risk of skin cancer. The lesions are usually removed to decrease this risk. The lesion will also be monitored for signs of cancer.The exact method of removal will be determined by the number and location of the lesions.AK may be removed with:
- Chemical peel
- Photodynamic therapy
PreventionTo reduce your chances of getting AK, take these steps:
- Avoid sun exposure.
- Protect your skin when outdoors. Wear long sleeves, long pants or a long skirt. Use a wide-brimmed hat, especially during the middle of the day.
- Use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.
American Academy of Dermatology
American Osteopathic College of Dermatology
Canadian Cancer Society
Canadian Dermatology Association
Actinic keratosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated February 21, 2014. Accessed August 8, 2014.
Actinic keratosis. The Skin Cancer Foundation website. Available at: http://www.skincancer.org/ak/index.php. Accessed August 8, 2014.
Jeffes EW III, Tang, EH. Actinic keratosis. Current treatment options. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2000;1:167.
Rivers JK, Arlette J, Shear N, et al. Topical treatment of actinic keratoses with 3.0% diclofenac in 2.5% hyaluronan gel. Br J Dermatol. 2002;146:94.
Stockfleth E, Meyer T, Benninghoff B, Christophers E. Successful treatment of actinic keratosis with imiquimod cream 5%: a report of six cases. Br J Dermatol. 2001;144:1050.
Sunscreen FAQs. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/media-resources/stats-and-facts/prevention-and-care/sunscreens. Accessed October 20, 2014.
- Reviewer: Brian Randall, MD
- Review Date: 08/2014
- Update Date: 10/20/2014
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