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What is Actinic Keratosis (AK) – A Potential Skin Cancer?

shutterstock 93812107 300x300 - What is Actinic Keratosis (AK) - A Potential Skin Cancer?An actinic keratosis (AK), or solar keratosis, refers to a scaly, crusty growth which occurs due to damage from ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure. AKs seldom develop as only one. Therefore, the plural, “keratoses,” is commonly used.

Suncoast Skin Solutions, led by board certified dermatologist Dr. Christopher Ewanowski, provides advanced dermatology treatments to patients in Tampa, Brandon, Lutz, Seminole, Riverview, Brooksville, Winter Haven, Daytona Beach, Largo, St. Petersburg, Ocala, Sarasota, Central Florida, Florida, and surrounding communities.

 

Pre-Cancer

Actinic Keratosis is believed to be a pre-cancer because if left untreated, it could develop into skin cancer. It usually progresses to the second most common form of skin cancer known as squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).  Over 419,000 cases of skin cancer in the United States annually are linked to indoor tanning, including around 168,000 SCCs.

AKs are the most commonly occurring type of precancerous skin lesion. They appear on skin that has frequently experienced exposure to the sun or artificial UV light sources, such as tanning beds. In some rare cases, extensive x-ray exposure can also lead to the development of AKs.

AKs typically appear on sun-exposed body areas such as the bald scalp, face, neck, shoulders, ears, back of the hands and forearms, and neck.

They are usually raised, rough-textured, and resemble warts. Most AKs are red, but they can also be white, pink, dark or light tan, or skin-toned. They may occur in a combination of these colors as well.

At the outset, AKs are usually so tiny that they can only be recognized by touch rather than sight. Upon running a finger over them, the sensation is similar to touching sandpaper. In comparison to lesions apparent on the surface of the skin, patients may have many times more subclinical (invisible) lesions.

AKs often develop gradually and attain a size ranging from an eighth to a quarter of an inch. Initially, they may vanish only to reappear later on. Sometimes they may be itchy or produce a tender or pricking sensation. They can also become swollen or surrounded by redness. AKs may also bleed in rare cases.  

 

Why You should be Concerned

While most AKs remain harmless, they reveal that the patient has experienced sun damage and is susceptible to the development of any type of skin cancer, most often the second most common form of the disease, SCC.

If a person has a single Actinic Keratosis, they may develop more in the future. Untreated and older AK lesions increase the probability that one or more may develop into an SCC.

Some scientists consider AK as the earliest type of SCC. In rare cases, AKs may also develop into the most common type of skin cancer, known as basal cell carcinoma.

If an SCC remains untreated, it may become invasive and even life-threatening. Another variant of AK, called actinic cheilitis, is an aggressive form of pre-cancer on the lower lips that has a high probability of developing into an invasive SCC.

When cancer arising from actinic cheilitis penetrates the outer lip layer (mucosa, mucous membranes) skin, it may bleed, develop a sore that does not heal, become infected, and even spread to internal organs.

At most, around ten percent of Actinic Keratoses develop into cancers. A majority of SCC start as AKs. However, there is no way to determine beforehand which AKs are precursors of SCC. Fortunately, there are effective AK treatments available to patients today.

Dr. Christopher Ewanowski’s skin care clinic receives patients from Tampa, Brandon, Lutz, Seminole, Riverview, Brooksville, Winter Haven, Daytona Beach, Largo, St. Petersburg, Ocala, Sarasota, Central Florida, Florida, and nearby areas for advanced skin treatments.


SunCoast Skin Solutions Dermatology offices are located in Tampa / Hillsborough, St. Pete/ Pinellas County , Brandon, Lutz, Winter Haven, Largo, Riverview, Brooksville, Ocala, and Daytona Beach, Sarasota, Florida. Contact us at 1-844-786-3376 or click here.

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