Actinic Keratosis: What It Is and How to Treat It

Actinic keratosis, also known as solar keratosis, is a skin condition that, when left untreated, can turn into skin cancer. It’s most common in people over the age of 40 who have had years of untreated sun exposure. Here’s how it can affect your life, when it’s time to see a doctor, and preventative measures you can take to avoid developing actinic keratosis.


What is the condition?
Actinic keratosis is a rough, scaly patch on the skin that forms after years of sun exposure. It can also show as hard and wart-like, and can cause itching, burning, bleeding, or crusting on the affected area. It’s most commonly found on the face, lips, ears, forearms, scalp, neck, or back of the hands. It grows slowly over time, getting worse as you age and through repeated sun exposure without adequate protection against UV rays. Left untreated, there’s a 5 to 10 percent chance actinic keratosis will develop into squamous cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer.


When should you see a doctor?
It can be hard to evaluate at home whether a spot is cancerous or noncancerous, so it’s best to have any questionable spots evaluated by your dermatologist. Seek guidance especially if new patches arise, grow, or if bleeding occurs. It’s better to be safe than sorry, and problems are best caught early. In fact, most spots are treatable if noticed soon after arising. Squamous cell carcinoma typically is not a life-threatening cancer if detected and treated early.


What are preventative treatments?
Some people are at a predisposed higher risk of actinic keratosis, but steps can still be taken to prevent it. Those who have red or blonde hair or blue or light-colored eyes should take extra precautions, as well as those with a history of sun exposure or who freckle or burn easily in sunlight. Those who work outdoors or have a weakened immune system should also take extra care. Protect yourself by limiting sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and wearing sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.


This column is sponsored by Lakeside Dermatology, and the opinions expressed herein may not reflect those of CFHN or its advertisers.

BIO: Dr. Alex Kennon, MD, FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist who is fellowship-trained in Mohs micrographic surgery. He received his undergraduate and medical degrees from Florida State University and completed his dermatology residency at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University. Lakeside Dermatology has offices in Sebring and Winter Haven.

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