What is actinic keratosis?
Actinic keratosis, keratoses in plural form, is a precancerous skin growth that has not yet turned into cancer. It develops when keratin proteins in the skin are mutated by excessive exposure to ultraviolet light. Actinic keratoses may be itchy or tender and can sometimes produce a prickly sensation. They can also become inflamed and surrounded by redness. In rare instances, actinic keratoses can even bleed. If left untreated, actinic keratosis can quickly turn into squamous cell carcinoma, a malignant form of skin cancer.
Which areas of the body are most affected by actinic keratosis?
Actinic keratoses usually appear on sun exposed areas of the body.
- Back of Hands
What does actinic keratosis look like?
Actinic keratoses appear as crusty, scaly clusters within the upper layer of skin. They are often elevated, rough in texture and resemble warts. Most become red, but some are tan, white, pink, or flesh toned. They can also be a combination of these colors.
In the beginning, actinic keratoses are often so small that they are recognized by touch rather than sight. In this stage, they will feel like sandpaper. Sometimes there are significantly more lesions than those on the surface of the skin.
Why are skin cancer screenings important?
Skin cancer screenings are the first line of defense against skin cancer. What may look like a small, insignificant bump could actually be a precancerous lesion. Regular screenings ensure that abnormal growths on the skin are detected before they spread and become hard to treat. The earlier actinic keratosis is diagnosed and treated, the better. It’s much easier to completely remove the growths before they turn into cancer, and they’re less likely to spread to other parts of the body if treated early.
What happens during an actinic keratosis screening?
Patients who receive an actinic keratosis screening at LA Laser and Skin Center can expect a quick and painless 10-15 minute exam. A skin cancer specialist will check the entire body for abnormal growths, paying close attention to size, color, border, and shape. If anything looks suspicious, a biopsy will be ordered.
How do I know if my actinic keratoses have turned into cancer?
Actinic keratoses can quickly turn into squamous cell carcinoma, a malignant form of skin cancer. Immediately visit a doctor if you notice any changes in the appearance of the lesions on your skin. Below are warning signs that your actinic keratoses may have turned into skin cancer.
- The color changes
- The lesions become unevenly smaller or bigger
- The lesions change in shape, texture, or height
- The lesions start to itch
- The lesions bleed or ooze
What treatments are available at LA Laser and Skin Center for actinic keratosis?
Surgical Treatment for Actinic Keratosis
Electrodesiccation and Curettage– During the first step, a curette is used to scrape out lesions. Next, an electrodesiccation tool is used to char the base and sides of the curetted area. The charred tissue is then removed. This process is repeated three times to ensure that all precancerous tissue is removed.
Cryosurgery– During treatment, liquid nitrogen is applied with a cryogun to the center of the lesion, forming an ice ball in the center until the entire lesion is frozen. The treated lesion will gradually heal, and any dead skin and scabs will naturally detach during the healing process.
Laser and Light Treatments for Actinic Keratosis
Laser- An extremely precise laser targets the actinic keratoses as well as the damaged skin surrounding them.
Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)- Patients will receive a specialized medication that activates when light energy is applied directly to the target area. Multiple treatments are needed.
Topical Treatment for Actinic Keratosis
If you have numerous or widespread actinic keratoses, your doctor may prescribe a topical cream or gel in conjunction with other more aggressive treatments. These can treat visible and invisible lesions with a minimal risk of scarring. Doctors sometimes refer to this type of therapy as field therapy, since the topical treatments can cover a wide field of skin as opposed to targeting isolated lesions.
Topical Chemotherapy- Rather than being given by mouth or injected into a vein, topical chemotherapy is put directly on the skin in the form of a cream or ointment. Because the drug is only applied to the skin, it does not spread throughout the body. This eliminates the side effects of systemic chemotherapy that affect the whole body. Topical chemo can make treated skin red and very sensitive for a few weeks, but additional topical medication can be used to help relieve this side effect. This treatment can also make the skin more sensitive to sunlight, so treated areas must be protected from the sun to prevent sunburn for a few weeks after use.
Chemical Peel- A specialized solution is applied to the face, causing the top layer of skin to slowly slough away. This less aggressive treatment is exclusively for smaller growths that are only on the surface of the skin.