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Definition

Actinic keratosis is also called solar or senile keratosis, it is a precancerous skin condition that develops in sun exposed skin, especially on the face, hands, forearms, and the neck. Actinic keratoses generally measure in size between 2 to 6 millimeters in diameter. They are usually reddish in color and often have a white scale on top. Approximately 50% of Americans over the age of 50 have actinic keratoses. Aks are the potential precursors of squamous cell carcinoma.

Causes

The thinning of the ozone layer may be allowing more ultraviolet rays reach the earth. Years of sun exposure cause these cells to change in size, shape, and the way they are organized. Cellular damage can even extend to the dermis, the layer of skin beneath the epidermis.  Actinic keratosis occurs most commonly in fair skin, especially in the elderly and in young individuals with light complexions. So people who have fair skin, blonde or red hair, blue, green, or gray eyes are at the greatest risk. Because their skin has less protective pigment, they are the most susceptible to sunburn. Even those who are darker-skinned can develop keratosis if they heavily expose themselves to the sun without protection. The growths begin as flat, scaly areas that later develop a hard wart-like surface.

Symptoms

Actinic keratoses are small and noticeable red, brown, or skin-colored patches that don't go away. They commonly occur on the head, neck, or hands but can be found on other areas of the body. Usually more than one is present. Skin-colored AKs may be easier to feel than to see and may be noticed more by the touch because they have a sharp, hard scale and feel like sandpaper. They are often sensitive or "touchy." Wrinkling, furrowing, and other signs of sun damage may be present with an AK. 

Treatment

Because actinic keratoses represent precancerous changes, you should have them examined promptly and follow the health care provider's advice for treatment.

Actinic Keratosis Treatment requires removal of the defective skin cells. New skin then forms from deeper cells which have escaped sun damage. An extremely cold substance, such as liquid nitrogen, is applied to skin lesions. The substance freezes the surface skin, causing blistering or peeling. As your skin heals, the lesions slough off, allowing new skin to appear.

Almost all treatments can be performed in the physician’s office or in special surgical facilities.  Most skin cancer removal can be done using a local anesthetic.  Rarely, extensive tumors may require general anesthesia and hospital admission.

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