An actinic keratosis (AK) is also called a solar keratosis. It refers to a scaly, crusty growth that occurs due to damage from ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure. The term “keratoses” is commonly used as it rarely occurs as just one.
If left untreated, AK may develop into skin cancer. It usually develops into squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) which is the second most common form of the disease. Over 419,000 cases of skin cancer in the US annually are connected to indoor tanning.
Common Sites of AK
AK is the most commonly occurring precancerous skin lesion on skin that has undergone frequent sun or UV radiation exposure (such as tanning beds). Rarely, AK may develop due to extensive x-ray exposure. They typically appear on sun-exposed sites such as the bald scalp, face, shoulders, ears, neck and the back of the forearms and hands.
They may also develop on the shins and other areas of the legs. AKs are usually raised, rough, and appear similar to warts. They are commonly red, but some are white, light or dark tan, pink and/or flesh-hued, or a combination of these hues.
Appearance of AK
At the outset, AKs are typically so tiny that they can only be felt rather than seen. It feels similar to running a finger over sandpaper. In fact, the patient may have many more subclinical (invisible) lesions than those appearing on the skin’s surface.
AKs most often form gradually and attain a size ranging from an eighth to a quarter of an inch. They may also disappear early on and reappear later. Sometimes they cause itching, or a pricking or a tender feeling. They may become swollen and surrounded by redness, and rarely, even bleed.
Why should you be concerned about AK?
Most AKs remain noncancerous, but they reveal that the patient may have experienced sun damage and is at-risk for the development of skin cancer, specifically SCC. The presence of one AK may lead to the development of more.
AKs left untreated, and those that are older have a higher probability of developing into an SCC. Some researchers view AK as the initial form of SCC. Rarely, AKs may develop into basal cell carcinoma (BCC) which is the most commonly occurring type of skin cancer.
Left untreated, SCC may become invasive and dangerous. Actinic cheilitis is a variant of AK which is usually an aggressive form of pre-cancer on the lower lips. It has a higher risk of developing into an invasive SCC.
After cancer due to actinic cheilitis penetrates the outer lip skin (mucosa, mucous membranes), it can cause bleeding, become infected, develop into a sore that does not heal, and even spread to internal organs.
Around 10 percent of AKs develop into cancers. Most SCCs start as AKs, but there is no method to determine which ones may develop into SCC. There are, fortunately, various effective treatments for removing AKs.
SunCoast Skin Solutions Dermatology offices are located in Tampa / Hillsborough, St. Petersburg / Pinellas County, Brandon, Lutz (2 locations), Winter Haven, Largo, Riverview, Brooksville, Ocala, Largo at Bardmoor, Daytona Beach, Sarasota, and Palm Harbor, Florida. Contact us at 1-844-786-3376 or click here.