Our team of professionals and staff believe that informed patients are better equipped to make decisions regarding their health and well-being. For your personal use, we have created an extensive patient library covering an array of educational topics, which can be found on the side of each page. Browse through these diagnoses and treatments to learn more about topics of interest to you.
As always, you can contact our office to answer any questions or concerns.
An actinic keratosis (plural: actinic keratoses) is a common skin growth. In fact, AK treatment is one of the most common reasons that people visit the dermatologist.
AKs are caused by years of unprotected exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun or indoor tanning beds.
AKs are considered precancerous growths. If left untreated, they may turn into a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common form of skin cancer. When detected early, SCC is highly treatable.
It is important to see a board-certified dermatologist if you suspect you have an AK.
AKs may range in size from as small as a pinhead to larger than a quarter. While many AKs share common qualities, not all AKs look the same. They may appear on the skin as:
Sometimes an AK grows rapidly upward, resulting in a growth that resembles the horn of an animal. When this happens, the AK is called a "cutaneous horn." Horns can vary in size from that of a pinhead to that of a pencil eraser or even larger. Some horns grow straight, while others curve. Cutaneous horns often form on the ears, face and the backs of the hands.
When AKs develop, they tend to appear on skin that receives a lot of sun exposure, including the:
AKs also commonly form on or at the border of the lips. Known as "actinic cheilitis," this type of AK looks like a white or grayish scaly patch, and it can make the distinction between the pink part of the lip and the surrounding skin become blurred. Lips affected by actinic cheilitis also may appear dry or cracked.
AKs may seem to disappear for weeks or months and then return. Left untreated, the damaged cells can continue to grow and may develop into skin cancer. This makes treatment important.
Most AKs appear in adults older than 40. However, people who use indoor tanning beds or live in sunny areas, like Florida or California, may develop AKs on their skin even earlier. Individuals with fair skin, light-colored hair and light- colored eyes have a higher risk of getting AKs than the general population, as do individuals with weak immune systems or those with conditions that make them sensitive to the sun’s UV rays.
A board-certified dermatologist can diagnose most AKs simply by examining the skin. Sometimes AKs are barely visible and are noticed earlier by touch. Some dermatologists may use a magnifying light called a dermatoscope to examine the suspected AK.
In some cases, a biopsy may be needed to ensure that skin cancer has not developed.
Your dermatologist can perform a biopsy during an office visit. Using local anesthesia, the doctor will remove all or part of the suspected AK. The removed tissue will be examined under a microscope.
When detected early, AKs are highly treatable. A board-certified dermatologist may use more than one type of therapy to treat AKs, and regular visits to your dermatologist may be required.
Treatments that a board-certified dermatologist can perform in his or her office include:
Your dermatologist also may prescribe one of the following medications for you to apply to your skin at home. Some treatments may need to be repeated if the AK recurs or if there is a lot of sun damage.
Additional in-office treatments may be necessary after treatment with topical medication, especially for thicker AKs. Research into other potential AK treatments is ongoing. No one treatment works on all AKs.
Actinic keratoses on the scalp
You can help prevent AKs and reduce their risk of returning after treatment by protecting your skin from exposure to UV light:
See a board-certified dermatologist if you notice any growth that:
A board-certified dermatologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and medical, surgical and cosmetic treatment of skin, hair and nail conditions. To learn more about actinic keratoses or to find a board-certified dermatologist in your area, visit www.aad.org/AKs or call toll-free (888) 462-DERM (3376).
Visit the AAD website SpotSkinCancer.org to:
All content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology.
Copyright © by the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Academy of Dermatology Association.
Images used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides
American Academy of Dermatology P.O. Box 1968, Des Plaines, Illinois 60017
AAD Public Information Center: 888.462.DERM (3376) AAD
Member Resource Center: 866.503.SKIN (7546) Outside the
United States: 847.240.1280
Email: [email protected]