Actinic keratosis – Pre-Cancers Treatment

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An actinic keratosis, also known as a solar keratosis, is a common premalignant skin lesion. An actinic keratosis occurs when the cells that comprise 90 percent of the epidermis, the keratinocytes, change their size, shape or organization in a process called cutaneous dysplasia. This alters the texture of the skin surface and may extend deeper, into the dermis.

If one of our doctors finds a growth that is thick or looks like skin cancer during the exam, our doctor will likely perform a skin biopsy. Harris Dermatology can safely perform a skin biopsy during an office visit. When found early and treated, skin cancer is often cured.

Causes of an Actinic Keratosis

These lesions are typically caused by chronic exposure to sunlight causing them to mainly found on areas of the body frequently exposed to the sun. At Harris Dermatology, we stress the importance of regular skin exams due to the consistent sun exposure our patients in Florida often endure. Although Actinic Keratosis is not actually a skin cancer, it can develop into skin cancer if left untreated. For this reason, an actinic keratosis must always be taken seriously through an examination with our dermatologists.

Symptoms of an Actinic Keratosis

Actinic keratosis typically appears as a scaly red or tan lesion on the surface of the skin. Actinic keratoses can appear on the face, ears, lips, neck, arms and hands. The lesions may range in size from a pinpoint to several centimeters in diameter. Along with varying colorings, these lesions may appear smooth, wrinkled or furrowed in texture.

Risk Factors for an Actinic Keratosis

Actinic Keratosis can affect anyone but is most often seen in fair-skinned individuals, aged 40 to 50 years of age. Although often seen in older patients, teenagers and young adults may often be diagnosed. Actinic keratosis is also more likely to occur in individuals who are frequently exposed to the sun or who use tanning beds.

Diagnosis of an Actinic Keratosis

A dermatologist should always be consulted about any suspicious lesion on the skin. A biopsy will likely be required to determine if the lesion is benign. The biopsy procedure is small and painless. From there, once the results are received our dermatologists will discuss the best course of action for your specific case.

Actinic Keratosis Treatment

There are many treatments for AKs. Some treatments can be performed right here at Harris Dermatology. Other treatments you will use at home. The goal of treatment is to destroy the AKs. Some patients receive more than one type of treatment. Treatments for AKs include:

  • Cryotherapy: Destroys visible AKs by freezing them. The treated skin often blisters and peels off within a few days to a few weeks. This is the most common treatment. When the skin heals, you may see a small white mark.
  • Chemical peel: This is a medical chemical peel. You cannot get this peel at a salon or from a kit sold for at-home use. This strong peel destroys the top layers of skin. The treated area will be inflamed and sore, but healthy new skin will replace it.
  • Curettage: Our doctor will carefully remove a visible AK with an instrument called a curette. After curettage, your doctor may use electrosurgery to remove more damaged tissue. Electrosurgery cauterizes (burns) the skin. New healthier skin will appear.
  • Photodynamic therapy (PDT): A solution is applied to make the skin more sensitive to light. After a few hours, the treated skin is exposed to a visible light, such as blue or laser light. The light activates the solution and destroys AKs. As the skin heals, new healthy skin appears.

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