Actinic keratosis (AK) is a crusty, scaly growth caused by damage from exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. It is considered a pre-cancer because it can develop into squamous cell carcinoma if left untreated. AKs are the most common type of precancerous lesions and appear on skin that has been frequently exposed to the sun, such as the face, scalp, ears, neck, shoulders, forearms, hands, and legs. They are often elevated, rough in texture, and resemble warts. Most become red, but can vary in color.
AKs are diagnosed during a skin exam. AKs are generally treated to prevent them from turning into skin cancer. People who develop AKs are at risk for developing others over time, either in the same area or elsewhere on the body. Therefore, regular visits to your dermatologist should be part of your annual routine. A variety of treatments can be used including:
Applying liquid nitrogen with a spray device kills the abnormal cells. The procedure may have to be repeated more than once.
Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)
A solution is applied to make the skin more sensitive to light. After a few hours, the treated skin is exposed to a visible light, such as blue or laser light. The light activates the solution and destroys AKs. As the skin heals, new healthy skin appears.
Topical Chemotherapy Creams and Gels
Topical medications are often prescribed to treat large areas of AKs or sun damage.