Also known as solar keratosis, actinic keratosis affects more than 10 million Americans. These precancerous growths on the skin are caused by overexposure to the sun over a long period of time. They are characterized by rough dry lesions or patches that appear on sun-exposed areas of the skin, such as the face, back of hands, arms, scalp or shoulders. The lesions may be red, pink, gray or skin-colored. Lesions often begin as flat, scaly areas and develop into a rough-textured surface. Sometimes it is easier to feel a growth than it is to see it.
Actinic keratosis is more common among fair-skinned people and those who have had years of outdoor or tanning bed exposure to ultraviolet light. Actinic keratosis can develop into malignant cells, typically squamous cell carcinoma, which is a type of skin cancer. That’s why treatment is important. After a physical examination and biopsy of the lesion, your dermatologist will opt for one of the following treatments to remove the growth:
- Cryosurgery, which freezes off the growth using liquid nitrogen.
- Surgical removal in which the doctor scrapes off the lesion and bleeding is stopped by electrocautery.
- Chemical peels cause the top layer of skin to peel off.
- Photodynamic therapy in which a dye is applied that sensitizes the skin to light and the area is then exposed to light via a laser or other light source.
- Topical Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS) that cause a slow inflammation and peeling; used in more superficial cases.
- Topical Chemotherapeutic agents (5 Fluorouracil, Aldara) can also be used.