Actinic keratosis (AK) is the medical name for precancerous skin lesions that appear on areas of skin that are damaged by sun exposure. These lesions may appear as small red, crusty, or scaly patches on the skin. These areas sometimes heal but the symptoms will return later. The incidence of AKs increases with age. People with a fair complexion (especially if they have light hair and eyes as well) are especially likely to develop these lesions. As many as one out of ten AKs will later develop into squamous cell skin cancer. Rarely, this cancer may metastasize and become fatal. The more actinic keratoses you have, the greater the likelihood that one or more will progress to the skin cancer stage.
Since AKs occur as a result of exposure to UV radiation from the sun, these lesions will usually show up on your face, ears, arms, or hands where they are readily visible. The longer you wait to treat them, the more disfiguring they will become. Fortunately, there are many highly effective options for removing the lesions and reducing the chance of recurrence.
- Cryotherapy – Individual lesions may be frozen off with liquid nitrogen.
- Imiquimod (Aldara) or 5-Flourouracil – these topical therapies may be used on the site of the actinic keratosis and other areas where subclinical AKs are suspected.
- CO2 Laser Resurfacing – This therapy removes the upper layers of skin where the abnormal cells are present and allows healthy skin to grow in its place.
- Chemical Peel – A medium depth peel may be used to treat the entire face to remove existing AKs and catch others while they are still forming.
- ALA-PDT – Aminolevulinic acid may be applied topically and activated with photodynamic therapy to oxidize and destroy cancer cells.
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