What You Should Know About Actinic Keratosis

What You Should Know About Actinic Keratosis

Actinic Keratosis_Loven DermatologyIf you’ve ever noticed a suspicious spot on your skin, it can be troublesome. While many spots are not harmful, some may be signs of more serious conditions. Actinic keratosis is one example of this. These precancerous growths are very common. In fact, 58 million Americans have at least one actinic keratosis. Learn how to spot, prevent and treat actinic keratosis.   

What is actinic keratosis 

Actinic keratosis is a precancerous skin growth. It is the most common type of precancerous growth. About 5-10% of actinic keratoses (or AKs) develop into skin cancer. This percentage may seem small. But having actinic keratosis raises your lifetime risk of cancer. Most that develop into cancer become squamous cell carcinoma. Usually, it is the result of long-term sun exposure. If treated quickly, most actinic keratosis can be eliminated before it becomes cancerous.  

What are the warning signs? 

If you have an actinic keratoses, you are likely to get more. Left untreated, there is a greater chance it will become cancerous. While the warning signs may vary from person to person, there are a few things to look out for. Actinic keratosis presents as dry or scaly skin patches that are red, pink, tan, brown or silvery. Sometimes, the patches may itch or bleed. It typically occurs on sun-exposed skin but may occur on areas without sun exposure. Most are found on the: 

  • Face, ears and lips 
  • Scalp (especially those who have little or no hair) 
  • Neck or chest 
  • Hands and arms 

Example of a lesion on the scalp


Who is at risk? 

Anyone may develop actinic keratosis. While it usually occurs in older adults, young adults may also develop growths. Certain skin types may also be more likely to develop actinic keratoses. You may be more likely to develop actinic keratoses or develop more if you: 

  • Have fair skin and light hair 
  • Have a lot of sun exposure 
  • Are over 40 years old 
  • Live in sunny regions or closer to equator 
  • Have a higher risk of cancer or a weakened immune system 


How is it treated? 

Prevention is key. So, proper sun care is essential. If you’re unsure where to start, read our guide to protecting against skin cancer and ultimate sunscreen guideIf you have a spot that concerns you or you think might be an actinic keratosis, you should see a dermatologist. A dermatologist can determine if the spot if cancerous and can treat it. There are several treatment options.  

  • Cryotherapy is one the most common treatment options. A dermatology providers uses liquid nitrogen to “freeze” the growth. The liquid nitrogen is cooled to -320 degrees Fahrenheit.   
  • Photodynamic therapy involves chemical and light therapy. First, a dermatologist applies a chemical treatment. This makes the lesion sensitive to light. Then, when it’s exposed to light, it’s destroyed.  
  • Sometimes, an actinic keratosis needs to be surgically removed. This is called curettage and involves scraping the lesion. A dermatologist can remove with local anesthesia and can send a sample to be biopsied, if needed.  
  • Topical treatments or some chemical peels may also be available for certain people with actinic keratosis.  


You may need multiple or repeat treatments to address actinic keratosis. Particularly if you have more than one or if they cover a widespread area.  

What you should know about actinic keratosis

Actinic keratosis is a precancerous growth. It can develop into skin cancer if left untreated. While only 5-10% turn into cancer, when they do become cancerous it can be deadly. These lesions are widespread and common among adults. Risk factors include people who are over 40, fair-skinned and who have a higher risk of cancer and prolonged sun exposure. If you have a lesion or new growth on your skin, you should see a board-certified dermatologist. Call us at 615.859.7546 today to schedule an appointment.  



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At Loven Dermatology, we are passionate about providing our patients with high-quality, individualized dermatological care and treatment. Our providers offer advanced, personalized care for a wide range of hair, skin and nail conditions. Please call us at 615.859.7546 for more information or to schedule your appointment.