What is an Actinic Keratosis?
Actinic keratoses (AKs) are scaly or crusty spots that appear on the surface of the skin. They are precancerous lesions that result from chronic sun exposure. Actinic keratoses are extremely common, with nearly 40 million Americans affected. Some of these lesions will develop into squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer. These spots can be found on chronically sun-exposed areas such as the face, ears, neck, balding scalp, lips, and hands. Early diagnosis and treatment of these lesions are key in preventing the further development of skin cancer.
What do AKs look like?
An AK looks like a crusty, pigmented lesion or dry patch commonly on chronically sun-exposed skin. The appearance can vary widely and many times AKs can be felt more easily than seen. They can range in size from a spot as small as a pinhead to over an inch. They may be dark or light, or the same color as one’s skin. The borders are often ill-defined and irregular. Occasionally they itch or produce a tender sensation. AKs can disappear only to reappear again. An AK located on the lower lip is known as actinic cheilitis. If these lesions begin to ulcerate, bleed, thicken, or become tender, it is suspicious for skin cancer.
Who is at risk of ACTINIC KERATOSES?
How are AKs diagnosed?
AKs are diagnosed by visual and physical evaluation by a trained dermatologist. Spots that keep coming back or won’t heal should warrant an evaluation.
How are AKs treated?
Treatment options are determined by the number of lesions, their locations, your age, and your health. Options include:
- Cryosurgery is a common therapy for AKs because it can be done quickly and efficiently in the office. Liquid nitrogen is used to quickly freeze the lesions and eliminate the precancerous cells. The skin may redden and blister before the lesion falls off and is replaced by new skin.
- Topical therapies may be used if AKs involve a larger area of the skin and are poorly defined. These therapies include topical chemotherapy agents such as 5-fluorouracil and immunomodulatory agents such as imiquimod and ingenol mebutate. With these therapies, one can expect the skin to turn red and blister over several weeks as AKs are targeted.
- Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) is an in-office treatment that involves the application of a special light-sensitive chemical to the area to be treated. The precancerous cells absorb the chemical. When the area is exposed to light, the abnormal cells are killed.
- Chemical peels involve the application of a chemical solution that peels away the AKs. The top layers of skin are replaced in approximately 1 week with a healthier layer of skin.
- A surgical biopsy may be warranted for a sampling of the lesion if there is a concern for the development of underlying skin cancer.
Combination therapy may be recommended. The appropriate treatment will be determined with Dr. Schuering and personalized for your specific circumstances and needs.
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"It is no wonder why the Spyglass team has collected so many 5 star reviews. The office is very well kept, the staff is friendly and attentive, and Dr. Schuering is an excellent practitioner of medicine. Before my procedure began, he explained to me every detail, and provided me with a printout of more research on the matter. During the procedure he was very professional and friendly, and put on some music for me and the staff to enjoy. Afterwards he watched my reaction closely, and personally followed up with me the next day to check in on me. I highly recommend the Spyglass Derm Team and Dr. Schuering. They are a wonderful, patient-first practice."- R.U. / Google / Oct 20, 2021
"Fantastic experience. I developed itchy bumpy skin that was spreading. Got lucky and Dr. Schuering had an opening same day. What a nice new office. Staff was excellent and efficient. Dr. Spent the time and then some, to listen an examine the issue. Gave a treatment plan that was easy to understand. Dr. Schuering is now our Derm Doc."- R.B. / Google / Oct 19, 2021