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Actinic Keratoses

Actinic keratoses are skin lesions that look rough, scaly, and red. They’re largely caused by sun exposure, and they’re considered pre-cancerous. This means that if left untreated, actinic keratosis can lead to skin cancer.

Actinic keratosis is also referred to as “solar keratosis” since it’s usually caused by sun exposure. It can develop into squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer that can be disfiguring and even fatal. Having multiple lesions usually indicated a greater risk of skin cancer.

If you do have rough skin patches that you suspect might be an actinic keratosis, speak to your doctor. Since they present such a profound health risk, you must have them treated by a health professional.

In this page, we’ll explain what causes actinic keratosis, what it looks like, and how it’s best treated. We’ll also answer some of the most common questions regarding this skin condition.


What Causes Actinic Keratoses?

Actinic keratoses are largely caused by sun exposure. They show up most frequently on the face, back of the hands, and other body parts that aren’t normally covered by clothing.

UV rays have a damaging effect on the skin that can alter DNA and lead to skin cell misbehaviour and abnormal growth. Cumulative sun exposure in youth can lead to actinic keratosis in later adulthood.

That means that if you’ve had severe sunburns, especially as a child, you’ll be at a greater risk for actinic keratosis and therefore skin cancer as an adult. These lesions usually start appearing in patients aged 40 and above.

Those who work outdoors, those with very fair skin, and those with a history of tanning are all at higher risk of actinic keratosis.


What Does Actinic Keratosis Look Like?

Actinic keratosis presents as dry, rough skin patches or as warts. The skin surrounding the lesion is often red, but the keratosis may also be colourless, yellow, or pigmented.

Actinic keratosis must be diagnosed by a doctor. A layperson can easily mistake it for dead skin buildup or a minor form of dermatitis.


Best Actinic Keratoses Treatments

At Discovery Laser, we can advise you on the most appropriate actinic keratoses treatment method based on the number of lesions, their location, your age and your general health.


Sunscreen & Prevention

It might be a cliche, but prevention is worth an ounce of cure. To prevent developing actinic keratosis later in life, wear sunscreen with at least 30 SPF when going outside, wear hats and UPF-rated clothing, and try to avoid spending time outdoors when the UV index is high.


In-Office Removal

Your doctor or dermatologist might be able to remove your actinic keratosis lesions, especially if they think there’s a risk they’ll develop into skin cancer. Your doctor may remove the lesions with cryosurgery (i.e. freezing), curettage (i.e. skin shaving), or recommend the use of an actinic keratosis cream at home.


Laser Treatments

Photodynamic therapy, especially in the form of laser treatments, can be extremely effective for treating actinic keratosis. Laser, utilized at a specific wavelength, can impact the lesions at the top and central layers of the skin (i.e. the epidermis and dermis), removing the affected cells and preventing the recurrence of actinic keratosis. It’s a fast and efficient method, especially for patients experiencing multiple lesions.

Unlike other methods of treatment, laser therapy also improves the overall appearance of the skin, and has a minimal risk of causing pigmentation or scarring.

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Actinic Keratoses FAQ

Actinic keratoses are not cancerous, they are precancerous. That means that they have the potential to develop into skin cancer. Treating actinic keratosis early and paying close attention to the skin will greatly prevent the risk of the lesions developing into skin cancer.

In some cases, actinic keratosis may go away on its own. However, it’s not a risk worth taking. If left untreated, actinic keratosis can also transform into skin cancer. As such, it’s always better to have it removed by a medical professional.

If you prefer, you can ask your doctor to prescribe a medicated actinic keratosis cream that you can use at home. This is known as “field therapy” and will usually require continuous treatment over the course of multiple weeks. You will still have to see your doctor to receive a diagnosis and prescription.