Causes & Treatment of Actinic Keratosis

An actinic keratosis is a patch of crusty, scaly skin caused by UV damage to the skin. Actinic keratoses are a precursor to various types of skin cancer. They are most often seen in adults over 40 and individuals who live in sunny climates, work outdoors, or who use sun lamps and tanning beds.

Causes of Actinic Keratosis:

A pre-cancerous skin lesion, such as acitinic keratosis, develops when the skin is repeatedly exposed to UV rays. Over time, the skin becomes unable to repair the damage caused by the rays, and the skin becomes thick, crusty, and scaly.

Risk Factors for Actinic Keratosis:

Individuals who have fair skin, hair, and eyes have less natural melanin to protect their skin from UV rays and are more likely to develop pre-cancerous skin lesions. Individuals who have a weakened immune system, medical conditions that increase sensitivity to UV rays, or who work with coal, tar, or other substances that contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are also prone to developing pre-cancerous skin lesions.

Diagnosing Pre-Cancerous Lesions like Actinic Keratosis:

An OC dermatologist and skin cancer specialist and surgeon like Dr. Tony Nakhla can diagnose such a lesion susceptible to skin cancer, by performing a visual examination of the skin. If a suspicious lesion is identified, a biopsy may be used to determine if the growth is cancerous.

Treating the Lesion Before it Turns into Skin Cancer:

Actinic keratoses are normally treated using outpatient procedures or home therapies.

  • Cryotherapy: The damaged skin may be frozen so that it will peel away and reveal new, healthy skin.
  • Chemical Peel: The chemical is applied to the affected area to destroy the damaged skin.
  • Curettage and Electrosurgery: A curette may be used to scrape away the damaged tissue. The doctor may follow this up by using a cautery to burn away additional damaged skin.
  • Laser Resurfacing: Similar to a chemical peel, the laser destroys the cancerous cells by removing the top layer of skin to promote the generation of healthy skin.
  • Photodynamic Therapy: Photodynamic therapy involves applying a solution to the skin to make it sensitive to light. As the skin is exposed to a specific wavelength of light, the acitinic keratosis cells are destroyed, and new skin develops within a couple of weeks.