What is Actinic Keratosis?
An actinic keratosis, known as AK, also goes by the name solar keratosis. Similar to to squamous cell skin cancer, it may have a crusty, scaly appearance, usually the result of excessive sun or tanning bed exposure. AK lesions commonly appear in clusters, so often times an actinic keratosis is referred to as plural: actinic keratoses. AK is normally precancerous, and if left to its own devices, may become squamous cell carcinoma. AK is the most common type of precancer lesion and is most frequently found on the face, scalp, hands, forearms, and upper V of the chest. They can be challenging to spot since they are typically small. Many people first identify them by touch, comparing the texture to sandpaper. Our team of board-certified medical professionals at Skin Cancer Consultants in Dallas, TX, led by dual-trained Mohs surgeon and procedural dermatologist Dr. Thornwell Parker, is highly skilled at identifying and treating this skin condition.
"Great experience. Dr Parker and staff made me feel at ease when getting four skin cancers removed off my face. Scars barely visible. So thankful my Dermatologist recommended Dr. Parker. Highly recommend."- D. . / Wellness / Feb 17, 2016
"All the staff was very professional."- Anonymous / Healthgrades / Oct 12, 2017
"Dr. Parker is excellent!"- B.M. / Google / Oct 08, 2017
"The best of the best! He came highly recommended by a doctor we have great respect for and he certainly was correct. Dr Parker has taken perfect care on all four visits for Ralph."- A.W. / Google / Sep 10, 2017
"I was diagnosed with 2 basal cell carcinomas requiring Mohs surgery by a dermatologist in McKinney. One was on my face and the other on my leg. I researched plastic surgeons specializing in Mohs surgery and found Dr. Parker. I had my surgery 2 weeks ago. I couldn't have asked for a better experience. Dr. Parker and his whole staff were very encouraging, caring and talked me through every step of the process. I felt very safe and comfortable and never felt I was being rushed. He took the time to explain everything he was going to do and gave me time to ask any questions. Other than a little prick from the initial numbing shots, I felt no discomfort. My incisions were bandaged and I went back the next day for sutures. Each incision required 14 stitches. His nurse explained exactly how to care for them. 1 week later I went back to have the sutures removed and they were covered with steri strips. While I was there, I asked for a full body check, as I didn't feel my original dermatologist had done a thorough check. Dr. Parker found 2 more suspicious spots, 1 was precancerous which he removed all of with the biopsy scrape and another on my back was basal cell which I will be going back for another surgery. So thankful he checked me thoroughly, checking from my scalp to between my toes. Dr. Parker will now be my dermatologist. I can't recommend them highly enough!"- C.A. / Yelp / Aug 13, 2017
Actinic keratoses can present in many different sizes, from a grain of sand to an inch in diameter. The bottom can be light or dark while the middle can display a variety of colors such as tan, pink, or red. Some people may also develop actinic keratoses on their lips, in which case it is referred to as actinic cheilitis and might include chapping, cracks, and discoloration. If you do see anything that looks remotely suspicious, contact Skin Cancer Consultants and arrange for a consultation immediately. As one of the leading authorities in the country on skin cancer, our staff will work with you to identify actinic keratosis or any other type of skin cancer.
Causes and Risks
Many people think that cloudy days are safer than sunny days since the sun is not directly hitting their skin. The truth is, even on completely cloudy days, up to 80% of the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays easily pass through those clouds. Additionally, extra damage is done when UV rays bounce off water, sand, or snow. Therefore sunscreen, protective eyewear, and proper clothing should be used at all times to decrease your odds of developing actinic keratoses. In addition, those with fair complexions, blonde or red hair, and light-colored eyes are at increased risk and should take extra precautions in the sun.
Fortunately, actinic keratoses are precancerous, so early recognition and treatment can remove the AKs from your skin before they turn into squamous cell carcinoma. Our medical professionals sometimes suggest a biopsy of a thicker or recurrent AK to rule out skin cancer. Depending on the extent of AK lesions, different types of treatments can be considered. If only a few actinic lesions are present, they are often treated with cryotherapy (freezing). However, when more lesions or signs of significant sun damage or present, we consider treating larger regions of the body at a time using other options like topical chemotherapy, photodynamic therapy, chemical peels or laser resurfacing. This is called “field therapy” for the wider field of skin being treated. Topical chemotherapy includes a variety of topical medicines like 5-FU (carac or effudex), imiquimod (zyclara or aladara), diclofenac (solaraze), or ingenol mebutate (picato). Chemical peels and laser resurfacing give added cosmetic benefits, removing the outer layers or old damaged cells.
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Prevent, Advocate, and Attack
Sunscreen is very important and is one of the main weapons in the battle against actinic keratoses. It is critical, especially if you have a history of skin cancer, to apply at least SPF 30 sunscreen every two hours when out in the sun. Education about safety in the sun is also important. Some of the top goals to keep in mind when outside are to seek the shade, don’t burn, cover up with clothing and protective hats, and examine your own skin every month from top to bottom. Skin Cancer Consultants is comprised of a team of highly trained specialists with the latest technology to diagnose, prevent, and attack any skin cancer issues that may arise, including actinic keratoses. Call now to set up a consultation.