Actinic Keratosis (Precancers)

More than five million nonmelanoma skin cancers are treated every year in this country. Incidence increased by 77 percent from 1994 to 2014. Prognosis is generally good for individuals who seek early treatment, and often it starts with professional evaluation of actinic keratosis. This is one of the valuable services Dr. M. Christine Lee provides for patients in the Walnut Creek, CA area.

Actinic Keratosis (precancers), Walnut Creek

Understanding AK

An actinic or solar keratosis is a rough, crusty skin lesion. You may see the plural term “keratoses” used because these growths usually develop in clusters. They occur when ultraviolet light damages DNA in skin cells, triggering mutations. This is considered a precancerous condition. Without treatment, an estimated 10 to 15 percent of AKs develop into cancer – most often squamous cell carcinoma (the second most dangerous type).

An AK may show up anywhere on the body, but they usually present on areas subject to frequent sun exposure or sunburn:

  • Scalp
  • Face
  • Nose (“solar keratosis nose”)
  • Lips
  • Neck
  • Ears
  • Shoulders
  • Forearms
  • Backs of hands

Actinic keratosis symptoms

Often an AK is first discovered by feel, as a rough spot on skin, rather than sight. In early stages the growth may be small and flesh toned. Where one AK is detected, there are probably many others subclinical, or not yet visible at the surface. Most become red or dark tan, or may contain a combination of colors, and grow up to a quarter inch in diameter. An AK may feel itchy or tender or appear inflamed. AKs may disappear on their own and then re-appear. It is unusual, but some AKs bleed. Other AKs may grow quickly forming a horn – a distinct protuberance. This type is especially likely to become cancerous.

Options in Walnut Creek, CA for actinic keratosis treatment

Actinic keratosis removal may be surgical, chemical, involve light-based therapy, or be a combination approach.

  • Actinic keratosis natural treatment – Ingenol mebutate, a plant-based immunologic treatment, is applied topically.
  • Topical medication – Chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or other types of drugs are applied to AK lesions. Treatment typically takes up to six weeks to work. Dr. Lee may suggest methods for actinic keratosis nose, to reduce risk of scarring.
  • Chemical peel – A more aggressive version of the rejuvenating facial, for superficial AKs. Trichloroacetic acid or a similar chemicals agent is applied, causing upper skin layers to slough off.
  • Dermabrasion – Large lesions or those that do not respond to topical treatment may be sanded off with a rotating head instrument.
  • Cryosurgery – Applying liquid nitrogen to freeze abnormal tissues, which then die and fall off. This technique is good for edge of ear or other hard to reach spots.
  • Curettage and desiccation – To the extent possible, the lesion is shaved off. Then electrical cauterization stops bleeding and destroys remaining mutated cells.
  • Surgical removal – With the advent of light and laser therapies, surgical excision is not performed as often. However, it does allow for biopsy of excised tissue.
  • Laser surgery – AK tissue is vaporized with a focused ray of light.
  • Photodynamic therapy – Lesions are treated with a chemical that makes skin very sensitive to light. Then, using a special light source, the agent is activated to destroy AKs without harm to surrounding skin. This is a good choice for actinic keratosis scalp or AKs scattered across the face.

Sun protection after treatment for actinic keratosis and ongoing is essential. Dr. Lee will recommend a high-quality sunscreen to be applied daily, reducing risk of future AKS.

Patients come from across the country for Dr. Lee’s expertise in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of skin cancer. If you think you may have an actinic keratosis, please call (925) 528-0117 to schedule a full body skin cancer screening at The Skin and Laser Treatment Institute in Walnut Creek, CA.

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