Actinic keratosis, also called solar or senile keratosis, is a precancerous skin condition that develops in sun-exposed skin, especially on the face, hands, forearms, and the neck. It is seen most often in pale-skinned, fair-haired, light-eyed people, beginning at age 30 or 40 and becoming more common with age.
Actinic keratoses are small and noticeable red, brown, or skin-coloured patches that don't go away. They commonly occur on the head, neck, or hands but can be found on other areas of the body. Usually more than one is present. They may:
Actinic keratosis needs to be evaluated by a doctor, especially if the keratoses become painful, bleed, become open sores, become infected, or increase in size.
Actinic keratosis is diagnosed through a skin examination. Your doctor may use a bright light or magnifying lens to look for growths, moles, or lesions. The scalp is examined by parting the hair. If there is a possibility of cancer, your doctor may take a sample of your skin and test (biopsy) it.
Early treatment of actinic keratosis is recommended to stop the possible progression to a type of skin cancer (squamous cell carcinoma). Treatment may include:
If you have actinic keratosis, you may have an increased risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma. There is no way to determine whether actinic keratosis will progress to squamous cell carcinoma or how fast this might occur. Keratoses on the ear and lip are at the highest risk of developing into cancer because of the sensitivity of the ear and lip to sun exposure.
You can help prevent actinic keratosis by staying out of the sun and using sunscreen when you are in the sun. You should also examine your skin for the condition and other suspicious growths once a month, especially if you spend a lot of time in the sun.
To protect your skin:
- Ibrahim SF, Brown MD (2010). Actinic keratoses. In MG Lebwohl et al., eds., Treatment of Skin Disease: Comprehensive Therapeutic Strategies, 3rd ed., pp. 14–17. Edinburgh: Saunders Elsevier.
Other Works Consulted
- Duncan KO, et al. (2008). Actinic keratosis section of Epithelial precancerous lesions. In K Wolff et al., eds., Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine, 7th ed., vol. 1, pp. 1007–1015. New York: McGraw-Hill Medical.
- Kose O, et al. (2008). Comparison of the efficacy and tolerability of 3% diclofenac sodium gel and 5% imiquimod cream in the treatment of actinic keratosis. Journal of Dermatological Treatment, 19(3): 159–163.
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine|
|Primary Medical Reviewer||Andrew Swan, MD, CCFP, FCFP - Family Medicine|
|Specialist Medical Reviewer||Randall D. Burr, MD - Dermatology|
|Last Revised||December 2, 2010|
Last Revised: April 2, 2012
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