Actinic Keratosis: Risk Factors and Diagnosis

Actinic Keratosis: Risk Factors and Diagnosis

If you feel a small area of scaly or crusty skin, don’t assume it’s ordinary dry skin. Actinic keratosis (AK) may be the precursor to cancer. Up to 10% of AKs develop into squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), the second-most common type of skin cancer in America, and about 60% of all SCC cases started out as AKs.

Protecting your skin from harmful ultraviolet rays can help prevent the formation of AKs and the development of SCC, which means using a broad-spectrum sunscreen religiously and steering clear of tanning beds and light-based nail treatments.

However, despite your diligent efforts, you may end up with an AK, and the best way to know for sure is to come see our experts at Easton Dermatology Associates. We have three locations in Easton, Salisbury, and Stevensville, Maryland, so getting checked is quick and convenient. We offer skin cancer screening to spot the first signs of suspicious growths, moles, sores, and spots.

Here’s a closer look at AKs to give you a better idea of what to look for. 

How to spot actinic keratosis

Although AKs can appear in any of several colors, including flesh-tone, white, pink, brown, or red, the first symptoms may be more easily felt than seen. If you feel a scaly or crusty spot that’s slightly raised, it may be an AK.

Sometimes, AKs feel tender or painful to the touch, and you may notice a burning or itching sensation.

AKs usually appear in the areas that are most frequently exposed to the sun, so keep an eye on your face, shoulders, neck, arms, legs, hands, ears, and scalp. AKs aren’t very big; they’re usually about an inch in diameter or smaller.

An AK on your lower lip is a slightly different variant called an actinic cheilitis. 

Are you at risk for actinic keratosis?

Anyone can get an AK, but some people are more at risk than others. 

Sun exposure

If you spend a lot of time in the sun at work or play, your chances of developing AK increase. If you have thin hair that exposes your scalp, or if you’re bald, your chances go up, as well. This is why regular use of a good sunscreen is so important, even on cloudy days.

Where you live

There are more cases of AK reported among folks who live near the equator, which makes sense, since the sun shines hotter and longer in those regions. 

Light skin

The fairer your skin, the higher your risk of developing AK.

Getting older

The longer you live, the longer your skin spends in the sun soaking up UV rays, which increases your risk of AKs. We see AKs most often in folks over 40. 

Compromised immune system

If your immune system is busy fighting off an illness or chronic disease, it won’t be as efficient at protecting your skin from AKs, so your risk goes up.

How we diagnose actinic keratosis

At Easton Dermatology Associates, we see actinic keratosis every day. From mild to severe cases, we have many years of experience identifying AKs after a simple visual exam and discussion with your about your symptoms and your medical history. 

Based on our findings, we recommend a course of treatment that will remove the AK, get rid of your symptoms, and reduce your risk of developing SCC. In very mild cases, we may suggest a prescription topical medication. These are often effective AK treatments and may even address AKs you can’t yet see or feel. 

However, many AKs need a next-level approach. Here are the most common in-office treatments we use for AKs:

The good news is that most AKs respond well to these treatments, especially when we catch them early.

If you suspect you have an AK or two, don’t wait — schedule an appointment with our team now to get a jump on your treatment before it turns into SCC. Call us at any of our three locations today.

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