Actinic Keratosis: the Precancerous Pathway to Squamous Cell Carcinoma

What is actinic keratosis?

Actinic keratosis is a skin condition that is known to progress into squamous cell carcinoma. These lesions are, in fact, the most common precancerous skin condition. Also known as solar keratosis, these lesions occur on the outer layer of the skin, the epidermis.


What causes actinic keratosis?

Just like skin cancers, chronic sunlight exposure is a primary cause of actinic keratosis. What happens is the long-term exposure to sunlight alters the cells that make up most of the outer layer of the epidermis. Areas of the body that are most frequently exposed to sunlight are typically where actinic keratosis is found; face, lips, ears, neck, scalp, forearms, and hands. Over time the sun exposure results in scaly, rough, discolored, and tender patches on the skin.

Genetics can also play an impact in the likelihood of someone developing actinic keratosis. Those with fair skin, light-colored hair and eyes are at a greater risk of developing these precancerous lesions. Immunosuppressed individuals are also considered high-risk for developing actinic keratosis. Elderly people are also more likely to develop actinic keratosis.


How is actinic keratosis treated?

Fortunately, actinic keratosis isn’t a life threatening condition so long as they are diagnosed and treated early on. Treatment options include photodynamic therapy, cryosurgery, laser resurfacing, and chemical peels. The treatment determined to be the best fit for you may vary based on your age, general health, as well as the location and size of the lesion.


What should I do if I think I have actinic keratosis?

If you notice a lesion that fits the description of actinic keratosis, it’s time for a visit with your qualified dermatology provider. Your dermatologist will be able to diagnose and treat actinic keratosis based on clinical appearance and possibly a skin biopsy.

If you’re in need of a dermatological provider that can provide you with the quality care your skin needs, visit one of our twelve offices. With mid-level providers who are specialized in dermatology to fellowship trained mohs surgeons and dermoscopy experts, our team can help you!

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