What is Actinic Keratosis?

What is Actinic Keratosis? Spectrum Dermatology, Scottsdale, Phoenix

What is Actinic Keratosis?

The term “skin cancer” is well-known, and the key to addressing this common form of cancer is early detection and prevention. Before skin cancer, there is often actinic keratosis (AK), also known as solar keratosis or “pre-cancer.” It presents as a crusty growth, often compared to a scale. Caused by UV radiation and sun exposure, this type of pre-cancer often occurs in pairs or groups. There are many types of pre-cancer on the skin, and actinic keratosis can be a red flag as it can precede squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), the second most common type of skin cancer.

Actinic Keratosis Pre-Cancerous Lesions

In the United States, around 420,000 people are diagnosed with skin cancer every year. Of those diagnoses, 168,000 are squamous cell carcinomas. Actinic keratosis is the most common pre-cancerous skin lesion, and is often found on patients who have had excessive sun exposure. Being outdoors without sunscreen and indoor tanning are the two leading causes of actinic keratosis and squamous cell carcinoma. Actinic keratosis can be found anywhere on the body, but is most common on the face, neck, back of the hands/forearms, ears, shoulders, and scalp (particularly in those who are bald).

What is Actinic Keratosis?

Actinic keratosis is usually rough in texture. These lesions are sometimes confused with warts, and consequently ignored. Oftentimes they are red, but may also present as a bronzed tan. Actinic keratosis can be white, flesh-colored, pink, or any combination of colors. In the early stages, actinic keratosis can be very small and may not be easily seen. However, patients often report that they feel the spot rather than see it. Anyone experiencing a spot on their skin that feels like sandpaper or notices anything unusual should immediately see a dermatologist to determine if the troublesome area is something serious, such as actinic keratosis, or benign.

How Actinic Keratosis Grows

Like many forms of skin cancer and pre-cancer, actinic keratosis often starts small and grows slowly. They are often around one-quarter of an inch when a patient seeks the help of a dermatologist. In some cases, actinic keratosis may seem to disappear and re-appear at a later date. Sometimes these lesions are tender or itch, and can become inflamed or bleed. There is no standardized actinic keratosis, which means anything out of the ordinary on the skin is deserving of a dermatological visit. Schedule your appointment at Spectrum Dermatology by calling 480-948-8400.