Actinic Keratosis is the earliest stage in the development of a skin cancer but is not cancerous. It is caused by damage to the skin from over exposure to the sun. It is more often found in people with fair skin. If untreated, it may progress into a squamous cell cancer (SCCa). Overall, a person with AK has 10% risk of developing SCCa. Any one lesion has at least a 0.1% lifetime risk of developing into a SCCa. That risk may be much greater in specific individuals and lesions.
Actinic Keratoses usually appear on sun-exposed areas, such as the face, ears and forearms. They appear as small, flat, scaly or crusty bumps which feel like sandpaper. They are often first identified by feel rather than by appearance.
If an AK is discovered, it should be examined by a doctor. Treatment of these lesions include destruction by freezing and occasionally topical chemotherapeutic agents such as Effudex (5 fluoro-uracil) or Aldara. If a suspected AK lesion recurs twice after freezing, then biopsy of the lesion is indicated to rule out a SCCa.
Once an Actinic Keratosis appears, there is a higher chance of others developing over the coming years. Proper sun protection and routine self-examinations are the best prevention. Skin examinations by a doctor should also be done yearly to check for suspicious or precancerous lesions.
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