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Actinic Keratoses

The importance of protecting our skin from the sun is now widely known. UV radiation from sun exposure is extremely harmful to the skin, and can cause great damage, potentially leading to skin cancer. One symptom of over-exposure to the sun is the formation of actinic keratosis.

Actinic keratoses are precancerous skin cells that form as rough, scaly patches on the skin. An actinic keratosis can range in color from pink to red to brown, and in some cases it can be a hard and have wart-like surface. It may be flat or a slightly raised patch on the skin, and can be accompanied by itching or burning. Each lesion can range in size from a pen tip to a half dollar, and should be checked by a dermatologist as soon as it is identified. Left untreated, some actinic keratoses can develop into squamous cell carcinoma, a very serious and potentially fatal type of skin cancer.

Actinic keratoses are caused when skin cells are damaged from UV radiation, often as a result of frequent or over-exposure to the sun. They typically develop over a period of time, with constant UV exposure. Thus, they are most commonly found in patients over 40, although they have been found in patients as young as teenagers. Patients with fair skin and coloring, such as with red or blond hair and green and blue eyes, are more susceptible to this condition. Also at greater risk are patients living in areas with high UV intensity like in Tucson, Arizona. Because they are formed due to prolonged exposure to the sun, they are most often found on the areas of the skin that are most exposed, such as the face, ears, scalp, neck, arms, and hands.

To prevent actinic keratosis, everyone should follow sun safety guidelines and protect their skin. Limiting sun exposure, utilizing sunblock items, and even wearing layers can greatly reduce the risk of actinic keratosis. Patients should avoid tanning beds or tan accelerators, as these can cause significant damage to the skin, potentially leading to actinic keratosis or other severe skin conditions.

There are several options for treating actinic keratosis, as they are treated to prevent them from becoming skin cancers. The treatment method most appropriate for each patient will be decided upon by the doctor and patient, and include the following:

  • Freezing, or cryosurgery: An extremely cold substance, liquid nitrogen, is used to freeze and kill the affected cells.
  • Scraping, or curettage: The affected cells will be scraped off by the doctor.
  • Electrodesiccation: Affected tissue will be destroyed with an electric current.
  • Topical treatments: Creams and ointments such as Efudex, Carac, Aldara, or Solaraze may be used to treat actinic keratosis.
  • Cosmetic procedures such as chemical peels and laser resurfacing may be successful as well.

Because actinic keratoses may develop into more serious forms of skin cancer, it is important to be checked thoroughly by a professional on a regular basis. If you believe you have actinic keratosis, or would like a skin exam, please contact us at Dyson Dermatology. We are among the premiere dermatologists in Arizona, and would be happy to help you with your skin care needs.

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