Actinic (Solar) Keratoses (aka AKs, Pre-cancers)
Strimling Dermatology, Laser & Vein Institute of Summerlin, Las Vegas specializes in the diagnosis, management, and treatment of actinic keratoses in an effort to prevent future skin cancer transformation.
What are Actinic Keratoses?
Appearing on the skin as dry/scaly, flesh-colored or discolored spots, actinic keratoses are pre-cancerous skin growths that represent the earliest stage in the development of skin cancer. Fortunately, actinic keratoses are readily treatable via a variety of methods, including freezing with liquid nitrogen, cryosurgery and photodynamic therapy (PDT), among other treatments. If left untreated, some actinic keratoses will develop into squamous cell cancer, a potentially dangerous skin cancer that can metastasize (spread to distant body sites) and must be completely removed as soon as is practical. Hence, treatment of actinic keratoses by a dermatologist is usually recommended.
How are Actinic Keratoses diagnosed?
Diagnosis of actinic keratoses is usually by visual exam; however, sometimes, one or more lesions is surgically biopsied or removed for pathology. Despite treatment, new or recurrent actinic keratoses will continue to develop, requiring periodic, on-going visits for exam and re-treatment. Actinic keratoses are also separately a risk factor for skin cancer and thus, necessitate close periodic monitoring by a dermatologist.
What causes Actinic Keratoses?
Actinic keratoses are caused by chronic (long term) or intense exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, such as from the sun or tanning beds/sun lamps. Most detrimental sun damage occurs within the first several decades of life. However, sun damage is also cumulative and worsens with age. Over time this damage eventuates into actinic keratoses, skin cancers and the other telltale signs of skin aging, such as wrinkles and sun / age spots.
Individuals with fair skin complexions (associated with blond or red hair, and/or blue or hazel eyes) are at more risk than those with darker skin tones. Fair skin has less melanin pigment which helps protect our skin from UV rays. Medications or medical conditions that impair one’s immune system can also promote the development of actinic keratoses.
What are Actinic Keratoses treatment options?
In addition to cryosurgery and PDT therapy, other treatment options include: curettage and electrosurgery, surgical removal, chemical or laser peeling, and topical medicines such as fluorouracil (Efudex), imiquimod (Aldara / Zyclara), and diclofenac (Solaraze).
Prevention of Actinic Keratoses
Prevention of AKs involves reducing your skin’s exposure to UV rays by staying out of the sun, or using sunscreen when in the sun. Also, examine your skin monthly for suspicious/changing or new skin growths and get examined by one of our dermatologists periodically and as needed.
Other helpful sun protection tips include:
- limit your sun exposure from 10 am to 4 pm,
- wear sun-protective clothing, including a wide-brimmed hat,
- use a SPF 30 or > sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays,
- re-apply sunscreen after sweating or swimming
- avoid tanning booths or sunlamps.