Actinic keratoses (AKs) are dry, scaly, rough-textured patches or lesions on the skin that are caused by years of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, such as sunlight. These lesions typically range in color from skin-toned to reddish brown and in size from that of a pinhead to larger than a quarter.
Actinic keratoses are the most common precancer and are considered to be the earliest stage in the development of skin cancer. This makes one more susceptible to other forms of skin cancer. Individuals with fair skin, a history of cumulative sun exposure, or a weak immune system are at greatest risk for developing AKs.
Prevention and Early Detection Key
To prevent AKs and skin cancer, the AAD recommends adopting a comprehensive sun protection program that includes:
- Avoid deliberate tanning.Ultraviolet light from the sun and tanning beds causes skin cancer and wrinkling. If you want to look like you’ve been in the sun, consider using a sunless self-tanning product. When using a self-tanning product, you should continue to use sunscreen.
- Get vitamin D safely through a healthy diet that includes vitamin supplements. Don’t seek the sun.
- Generously apply sunscreen to all exposed skin.Before going outdoors, generously apply a sunscreen that has a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 30 and is broad-spectrum — protects against both ultraviolet (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. While outdoors, re-apply the sunscreen approximately every two hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or perspiring.
- Cover up when you must be in the sun.Wear long sleeves, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses that protect against both UVA and UVB rays.
- Use extra caution near water, snow, and sand. These reflect the damaging rays of the sun, which can increase your chance of sunburn.
When caught in the early stages, AKs and all types of skin cancer are treatable and in most cases, curable. The key to early detection is frequent skin examinations. Performing regular self-examinations and being screened by a dermatologist can help detect AKs and skin cancer in the earliest and most treatable stages.
Treatments for Actinic keratoses include:
- Cryosurgery— Some Actinic keratoses respond to cryosurgery, where liquid nitrogen is used to freeze off the tumor.
- Prescription Medicated Creams— These creams can be applied at home. They stimulate the body’s natural immune system over the course of weeks.
- Blu-U ®— The Levulan® Kerastick® for topical solution plus blue light illumination using BLU-U® Blue Light.