What are the Treatment Options for Actinic Keratosis?
If you’re over 40 and notice a dry, rough, scaly patch of pink, red or brown skin it could be actinic keratosis. These rough scaly patches are the result of past sun exposure, and can often take years to develop. A percentage of these skin lesions can become cancerous.
So They Only Affect Middle-Aged or Older People?
“Although they’re most common in people over 40, anyone can get an actinic keratosis,” says Dr. Adam Mamelak, board certified Dermatologist and Mohs Micrographic surgeon at Sanova Dermatology. Young people who use tanning beds or anyone who spends time in the sun is vulnerable.
You can reduce your risk by limiting your sun exposure and protecting your skin from the sun’s UV rays by using a broad-spectrum sunscreen daily. (A once-a-day application is not sufficient if you’re spending a significant amount of time outdoors. Sunscreen must be reapplied throughout the day for maximum protection.)
You’re also at risk if:
- you live in a sunny climate.
- have a history of severe sunburns
- have red or blond hair and blue eyes
- have a tendency to freckle or burn when you spend time in the sun
- have a weak immune system due to chemotherapy or certain diseases such as leukemia or HIV
Actinic Keratosis most commonly appears on the face, lips, ears, scalp neck, forearms and the backs of the hands. Also known as solar keratosis, it enlarges slowly and usually is not bothersome or symptomatic, although some people report itching or burning in the area of the lesion.
Should You See a Doctor?
“Since it’s often difficult to tell the different between cancerous and non-cancerous spots on the skin, it’s always a good idea to see a dermatologist for a proper diagnosis” Dr. Mamelak shares. This is especially true if you notice a new spot, or if an existing spot grows or bleeds.
“Because these skin changes have the potential to become cancerous, the most prudent treatment is removal,” explains Dr. Mamelak. This can be done by freezing the patch (called cryotherapy), scraping (called curretage), or if you have clusters of them, your doctor may prescribe one of a number of medications to treat the entire area. They can also perform photodynamic therapy, a light-based treatment that destroys the damaged cells. Your doctor will very likely recommend annual skin examinations to check for additional actinic keratoses or cancerous lesions.
If you discover any spot on your skin that wasn’t there before, or if a mole seems to have changed, it’s always best to point it out to your doctor, who will usually refer you to a dermatologist for a definitive diagnosis and treatment.
In the Austin, Texas area, ask your doctor for a referral to Sanova Dermatology. Our team is caring and knowledgeable, and our facility has the latest technology, so you can feel confident you’re in very capable hands! Contact us anytime for more information about our services.
Photo credit: (1) Future FamDoc