Actinic Keratosis

What is Actinic Keratosis?

Actinic keratosis (AK), also known as solar keratosis, is a precancerous skin condition caused by prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or artificial sources such as tanning beds. It typically appears as rough, scaly patches on sun-exposed areas of the skin, such as the face, ears, neck, scalp, forearms, and backs of the hands.

Symptoms of Actinic Keratosis

Signs and symptoms of actinic keratosis may include:

  • Rough, scaly, or crusty patches on the skin.
  • Flat or slightly raised lesions with a rough texture.
  • Pink, red, or brownish discoloration.
  • Itching or burning sensation in affected areas.
  • Lesions that may be tender or painful when touched.

Types of Actinic Keratosis

  • Hypertrophic Actinic Keratosis: Thick, raised patches with a rough, wart-like appearance.
  • Atrophic Actinic Keratosis: Thin, flat patches with a depressed center and raised edges.
  • Pigmented Actinic Keratosis: Lesions with increased pigmentation, ranging from brown to black.

Causes of Actinic Keratosis

Actinic keratosis develops as a result of cumulative sun exposure over time, leading to damage to the skin’s DNA. Risk factors for developing AK include:

  • Prolonged exposure to sunlight, particularly in individuals with fair skin.
  • History of sunburns or frequent outdoor activities.
  • Age, as older individuals are more susceptible to AK due to cumulative sun exposure.
  • Weakened immune system, as seen in individuals with conditions such as HIV/AIDS or those taking immunosuppressive medications.
  • Personal or family history of skin cancer.

Treatment for Actinic Keratosis

Early diagnosis and treatment of actinic keratosis are crucial to prevent the progression to skin cancer. Treatment options include:

  • Topical Medications: Prescription creams or gels containing ingredients such as fluorouracil (5-FU), imiquimod, diclofenac, or ingenol mebutate.
  • Cryotherapy: Freezing the affected area with liquid nitrogen to destroy abnormal cells.
  • Photodynamic Therapy (PDT): Application of a photosensitizing agent followed by exposure to light, which selectively destroys abnormal cells.
  • Excision: Surgical removal of the lesion, particularly for thicker or more extensive AKs.
  • Laser Therapy: Use of laser technology to target and destroy abnormal cells.

In addition to treatment, individuals with actinic keratosis should adopt sun protection measures, including wearing sunscreen, and protective clothing, and avoiding excessive sun exposure, to prevent the development of new lesions and reduce the risk of skin cancer.

It’s important to consult a dermatologist for proper evaluation and management of actinic keratosis.

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