Actinic Keratosis


AK is a common skin condition caused primarily by overexposure to the sun. An AK lesion can be recognized as scaly, crusty bumps that appear on the outermost layer of the skin. They can be small, solid, rough, flat or raised. They can also be flesh-colored, tan, pink, red or a combination of these colors. The best way to diagnose the disease is by sense of touch. If the lesion is rough and sporadically itches or has a pricking, tender sensation, then it may be an AK. Most often, these lesions typically appear on areas frequently exposed to sun. These parts include but are not limited to: the face, ears, scalp, neck, backs of hands, forearms, shoulders and lips.

Patients with fair skin and light eyes are more likely to develop AK. It is important to remember that anyone spending time unprotected in the sun is susceptible. Those with medical conditions that cause an increased sun-sensitivity and older adults 40-50 also have a greater risk of acquiring an AK. In fact, the American Academy of Dermatology estimates that 60% of predisposed persons over the age of 40 years have at least one lesion. Therefore, it is important to have a physician examine your skin at least once a year.

What causes Actinic Keratosis?

Repeated, prolonged sun exposure causes skin damage, especially in fair-skinned persons. Sun-damaged skin becomes dry and wrinkled and may form rough, scaly spots called Actinic Keratoses. These rough spots remain on the skin even though the crust or scale is picked off. Treatment of an Actinic Keratosis requires removal of the defective skin cells. New skin then forms from the deeper skin cells, which have escaped sun damage.

Why treat Actinic Keratosis?

Actinic Keratoses are not skin cancers but they may sometimes turn cancerous, however they should be removed.

How do I treat Actinic Keratosis?

Skinworks Dermatology offers several procedures to treat your AK lesion. We offer:

Cryosurgery: liquid nitrogen to freeze the lesion
Curettage and Desiccation: scraping and cauterization
Topical Medications ( 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) , Aldara cream, or Zyclara cream)
Chemical Peels
Laser Surgery
Photodynamic Therapy (PDT)
Photodynamic Therapy (PDT) is a unique and thorough treatment approach to pre-skin cancers, called Actinic Keratoses. The treatment is performed with the topical application of a photosensitizing agent called Levulan which is then activated with an appropriate wavelength of light. This is also known as “ALA/PDT treatment”. This therapy treats sun damaged pre-cancerous actinic keratoses. Sun damage, fine lines, blotchy pigmentation, and red spots are also improved because of the unique effect of Levulan and the light on photodamage. ALA/PDT treatment also has the unique ability to shrink oil glands and effectively treat stubborn acne.

How do I prevent Actinic Keratosis?

Sun damage is permanent. Once sun damage has progressed to the point where Actinic Keratoses develop, new keratoses may appear even without further sun exposure. You should avoid excessive sun exposure but don’t go overboard and deprive yourself of the pleasure of being outdoors. Reasonable sun protection should be your aim.

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