Actinic keratosis is also called solar keratosis, and is often found on sun-exposed areas of the skin in people middle-aged or older. A person with one actinic keratosis will often develop more. The number of actinic keratoses often increases with age. The presence of an actinic keratosis indicates that a person’s skin has suffered sun damage.
Actinic keratoses are considered slow growing. They often go away on their own, but may return. Approximately 1% of actinic keratoses develop into squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) if left untreated. Treatment is required because it is difficult to tell which keratoses will develop into cancer.
Watch our informative video about actinic keratosis here.
The following risk factors may increase a person’s chance of developing actinic keratosis:
- Overexposure to ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation from the sun
- Increased age
- Fair skin
- Weakened immune system
- Previous PUVA (psoralen + UVA) therapy
Signs and Symptoms:
Actinic keratosis is most often seen on skin that is frequently exposed to the sun, such as the face, the backs of hands or a balding scalp. The signs and symptoms of actinic keratosis may include:
- Small, rough patches that may be pink-red or flesh coloured
- An initially flat surface that becomes slightly raised and wart-like
Actinic keratosis is diagnosed during an examination of the growth. If it does not go away with treatment or shows signs of developing into SCC, a skin biopsy will be done.
Treatment options for actinic keratosis depend on the number and location of keratoses. The treatment may include one or a combination of the following:
- Topical chemotherapy
- 5-fluorouracil (5-FU, Efudex)
- Ingenol mebutate (Picato)
- Topical biological therapy
- Imiquimod (Aldara or Zyclara)
- Often used on single spots
- May also be used for many small, raised spots
- Simple surgical excision
- Curettage and electrodesiccation
- May be used on many large spots
- Chemical peeling
- Laser surgery
- Photodynamic therapy
Information obtained from the Canadian Cancer Society.