Actinic keratosis, also known as a solar keratosis, is a precancerous condition of the skin that causes a scaly or crusty bump to arise on the surface of the skin. Actinic keratosis develops slowly and typically appears in several areas including:
- On the face
- Bald scalp
- Backs of the hands
Actinic keratosis tends to rest flat against the skin of the head and neck, but can appear elevated on the arms and hands. In many cases a person will present with multiple actinic keratosis lesions.
The lesions are rarely life threatening, provided that they are detected and treated in the early stages. However, if the actinic keratosis sites are not treated and the actinic keratosis symptoms not addressed, they can sometimes develop into squamous cell carcinoma.
Primary actinic keratosis causes include sun exposure. Because sun damage to the skin accumulates over time, even brief exposure over the course of your life can lead to actinic keratosis. Certain groups of people are more at risk than others, including the following:
- People who have fair skin, blonde or red hair, and blue, green or gray eyes are at the greatest risk, but darker-skinned people can develop actinic keratosis if they expose themselves to the sun without protection.
- African-Americans rarely suffer from actinic keratosis symptoms.
- Individuals who are immune-suppressed as a result of cancer chemotherapy, acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) or organ transplantation are also at higher risk.
- Because sun exposure is cumulative with our skin, that exposure increases with age. As such, adults and the elderly are far more likely than younger people to develop actinic keratosis.
Because sun exposure is cumulative with our skin, that exposure increases with age. As such, adults and the elderly are far more likely than younger people to develop actinic keratosis.
The base may be the same color as the surrounding skin however pigmentation of the actinic keratosis can vary and may be light or dark, tan, pink, red, or a combination of these. The scale or crust may be horny, dry and rough, and is often recognized by touch rather than sight. In some cases, actinic keratosis may itch or produce a prickling or tender sensation.
Specific treatment for actinic keratosis will be determined by your doctor based on:
- Your age, overall health, and medical history
- Extent and location of the disease
- Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
- Expectations for the course of the disease
- Your opinion or preference
Treatment for actinic keratosis may include cryotherapy (freezing the lesion), topical chemotherapy (anticancer drugs applied to the skin), minor surgery, or other treatments. Nearly all actinic keratoses can be successfully treated, although in rare cases they may recur (come back). Continued skin examination after treatment is important, as people who have had them often develop new ones.