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If you’ve recently noticed a stubborn patch of dry, irritated skin that refuses to heal or go away no matter how much lotion or moisturizer you use, it might be actinic keratosis!
This common precancerous skin condition affects around 58 million people in America and has a small chance of turning into skin cancer, which is why you should visit a board-certified dermatologist for a professional skin evaluation if you begin to notice its signs and symptoms.
What Is Actinic Keratosis?
Also known as solar or senile keratosis, actinic keratosis (AK) is a common skin condition that often presents itself on the skin as dry, scaly, rough patches. It is typically thought to be caused by sun damage and years of unprotected exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays.
Actinic keratosis is often referred to as a “precancer,” as some actinic keratoses can turn into skin cancer and the more AKs one has, the higher their risk for skin cancer is.
Actinic Keratosis FAQ
It’s important to know what actinic keratosis looks like to ensure you get it treated as soon as possible and reduce your risk of it turning into skin cancer. Actinic keratosis symptoms include:
- Rough, sandpaper-like patch of skin that’s easier to feel, rather than see.
- Textured, scaly bumps that may look like pimples.
- Elevated spots that may look and feel like a rash.
- Patch of rough skin that may be the color of red, pink, gray, brown or flesh-colored.
- In some cases, a hard wart-like surface.
- Flat, scaly area that looks like an age spot.
- White, flaky patches on one (or both) lips.
If you start to notice any of these actinic keratosis warning signs, make sure to visit an experienced dermatologist for a professional diagnosis and actinic keratosis treatment plan.
Actinic keratosis is not skin cancer but instead a precancerous skin condition. This means the abnormal skin growths are benign and often pose no risk to one’s health. However, studies have shown around 5-10% of actinic keratoses turn into squamous cell carcinoma, which is why it’s important to detect and treat AK as soon as possible.
Common symptoms of actinic keratosis include an abnormal patch of skin that feels rough, scaly, crusty, or like sandpaper. Actinic keratoses can be raised or flat; range in color from pink, red, white, or tan shades; and its size can range from a small spot (pencil eraser sized) or a larger, quarter-sized patch.
Actinic keratosis and seborrheic keratosis are both common skin conditions, and while they certainly sound similar, they are quite different in how they can impact one’s health. Mainly, seborrheic keratosis is a noncancerous skin growth and poses no risk of turning into skin cancer, unlike actinic keratosis.
Seborrheic keratosis, though it can be irritating and sometimes unsightly, does not require treatment. Actinic keratosis should be treated to reduce the risk of it turning into skin cancer.
Actinic keratosis is usually caused by sun damage, which means it most often shows up on sun-exposed areas. This may include the face, scalp, ears, neck, chest, shoulders, forearms, and back of hands
There are several ways to treat AK, and your dermatologist will determine which is best for you based on several factors. Your dermatologist will review your skin health, how widespread the AKs are, their location, previous skin cancer history, and any other medical conditions you may have.
Common actinic keratosis treatments include:
- Topical Creams
- Cryosurgery (Freezing the Area)
- Photodynamic Therapy
The best treatment will ultimately be decided between the patient and board-certified dermatologist.