Actinic Keratosis, AK for short, is a skin disorder which develops on chronically sun exposed skin. It is also known as solar keratosis, precancerous spots or sun spots . This skin condition is identified by the presence of small but rough patches. These patches, generally, measure 2 to 6 mm in diameter. These bumps are red in color usually and have white scale on their top. When something like cloth or finger, gets touched to that rough patch, person feels pain.
Actinic Keratosis is generally present on face, back of the neck, scalp, upper chest, tops of the hands and forearms. Usually fair-skinned people, who have spent lot of time outdoors, exposing their skin to sun, are at greater risk of developing Actinic Keratosis.
Color of patches caused by Actinic Keratosis may vary from light or dark, tan, red, pink or may be same color of the skin. Its crust is horn-like dry and it is easily identified by touch rather than watching. Sometimes, the person feels itching or pricking sensation, while the person is exposing that part of skin to the sun.
These patches disappear themselves if you cut exposure to sun but may reappear later.
Actinic Keratosis is dangerous as it can develop into skin cancer later on. These bumps are precancerous. However, not all the bumps in all the people change into cancer. This process takes years to transform into cancer. If they are detected and treated at early stages, they are not life threatening. If they are not treated early, they can turn into ulcers, infect and can spread into inner organs after engulfing surrounding tissues. This cancer is known as squamous cell carcinomas .
Sun exposure for short duration do not cause actinic keratoses or skin cancer; this is the case of chronic sun exposure.
Doctors generally identify this skin condition, just by examining the patch but in case of thicker and larger patches, doctors advice to go for skin biopsy to rule out any cancerous growth.
Actinic keratoses can be treated with the help of many effective treatments available. There is no need to treat all the patches of actinic keratoses. While deciding the type of treatment to be given to eliminate actinic keratoses, patient’s age, health and nature of lesion is taken into account.
Before telling about treatment, I must tell you these patches may turn into lesions, for any sun exposure you may have had in the past. It is advisable to protect your skin for sun exposure as much as possible.
Now come to the treatments for actinic keratoses.
Cryosurgery is the most common treatment for treating this skin disorder. Liquid nitrogen is applied with the help of cotton-tipped applicator or spray device, over the lesion to freeze this off. It does not cause any bleeding or pain during the process. If the spot is frozen for long period, there are lesser chances of its coming back; however, it can result in hypo-pigmented areas.
Another treatment is Curettage . In this procedure, doctor takes a biopsy specimen by scraping off the lesion. Bleeding is caused in the procedure which is controlled by heat produced from the electric needle or application of acid.
Chemical Peel method is used for peel off the top layer of the skin. Jessners solution and/or trichloroacetic acid are used for the chemical peeling. Any soreness occurred clears off after few days. New skin generally covers the lesion within a week.
When there are multiple lesions, application of topical cream is recommended for treating keratoses. 5-fluorouracil attacks precancerous cells and should be applied for 2 to 4 week, twice daily. Its application produces temporary reddening due to breakdown of the skin also produces discomfort. Though this method is effective but it is longer treatment and also makes skin unsightly.
Photodynamic therapy: This is a newer research in which, chemical is injected in the blood stream and it accumulates in to the lesions. Then it becomes sensitive to special form of light. This relatively new therapy involves injecting a chemical into the bloodstream that gathers in AKs and makes them more sensitive to exposure to a specialized form of light.
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