Actinic keratosis is a pre-cancerous condition that affects the skin when exposed to the sun for an extended period of time. Here's more…
Actinic keratosis, also referred to as sun spots, solar keratosis, and pre-cancerous spots, or AK for short, is a crusty or scaly little spot that occurs on the skin, which can by as tiny as a pinhead to measuring more than an inch in diameter. It can be the same color as the skin, or reddish, pink, tan, or lighter or darker. The crusty or scaly surface is rough and dry, and hence, can be easier to recognize by touching rather than by looking at it. It can be raised or flat, and usually occurs on parts of the body that are exposed to the sun, such as the face, neck, ears, forearms and hands, ears, and lips. On being exposed to the sun, they can often feel tender or prickly, or even itchy. If exposure to the sun is avoided for a few years, most of the actinic keratoses will subside on their own.
Appearance of Actinic Keratoses
The occurrence of this disorder is indicative of the development of the cancer of the skin, and hence, is a pre-cancerous condition. But, the process of turning cancerous takes a number of years. Besides, very few actually do turn malignant. When they do turn cancerous, the condition is known as squamous cell carcinoma. This type of cancer is not life-threatening, generally, especially when there is early detection and treatment. In case that is not done, it can result in ulceration, bleeding, and infection, with the ulcers growing large in size and invading the tissues nearby, with chances of them metastasizing, or spreading to other parts of the body.
Damage to the skin by the sun takes a long time to accumulate, often requiring a lifetime of exposure to the sun. Recent exposure to the sun or short periods in the sun usually does not lead to actinic keratosis or them developing into cancer of the skin.
Those whose skin is fair, have gray, blue, or green eyes, and have red or blond hair, are more susceptible to developing the condition, since they have less pigmentation of the skin, which acts as a protective barrier against the sun. Darker skinned people can also be affected if they expose their skin to the sun heavily.
Prevention can be the best method of treating actinic keratoses, which means, limiting exposure to the sun. However, if the condition has already occurred, preventive methods can only be a means of not exacerbating it, since radiation from the sun has already caused damage to the skin. But, there are various methods of treatment that are quite effective.
Cryosurgery: This method involves applying liquid oxygen, either with a cotton-tipped applicator or a spraying device, to the actinic keratosis, which results in the lesions sloughing off. Anesthesia is not required, and there is no bleeding involved.
Curettage: A curette is used to scrape off the keratosis, along with cauterization to control the bleeding.
Creams: Creams that contain 5-fluorouracil work by attacking the actinic keratoses directly. Although this treatment can cause the skin to become raw and red, and some discomfort from the breakdown of the skin, it is effective. Aldara, one of the newer medications that stimulates the immune system of the body. Solaraze gel, a non-steroidal medicine, is also quite effective.
Chemical Peels: Acids are applied on the affected area, which causes the top layers of the skin to peel off. New skin usually grows within a week, and the soreness and redness goes away within a few days.
Photodynamic Therapy: This method of treatment is comparatively new, involving the injection of a chemical into a blood vessel, which collects in the actinic keratoses, and makes them sensitive to a special kind of light.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be replaced for the advice of a medical professional.