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What You Should Know About Actinic Keratosis — Warning Signs, Prevention & Treatment Options

With around 58 million people in America having one or more actinic keratoses, actinic keratosis (AK) is one of the most common precancerous skin conditions our dermatologists diagnose today. 

Although an actinic keratosis patch has a low chance of turning into skin cancer, it can precede cancer or be an early form of skin cancer. More specifically, actinic keratosis can evolve into squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). 

This is why it’s important to learn more about this skin condition to reduce your risk or get it treated as soon as you notice its symptoms. Keep reading to uncover the warning signs and symptoms of actinic keratosis, as well as our prevention tips and the best treatment options. 


What You Should Know About Actinic Keratosis 

In the sections below, we cover everything you should know about actinic keratosis. This includes what this skin condition is, what causes it, how it most often shows up on the skin, easy prevention tips, how it’s diagnosed, and how we most often treat actinic keratosis at Brentwood Dermatology. 


What is Actinic Keratosis? 

Firstly, let’s cover what
actinic keratosis actually is so you can better understand this precancerous skin condition. Actinic keratosis, also commonly referred to as solar keratosis, a skin ailment that often shows up as dry, scaly, red patches. 


What Causes Actinic Keratosis? 

In most cases, this skin condition is caused by multiple years of unprotected exposure to the sun or UV rays in tanning beds. Over time, this excessive UV light exposure damages cells in the skin called keratinocytes, which are cells found in the epidermis (outermost layer of skin). 


What are the Warning Signs and Symptoms of Actinic Keratosis? 

One of the key steps you can take to reducing your risk of skin cancer is simply by knowing what actinic keratosis looks and feels like.
Detecting it early and getting it treated by a board-certified dermatologist is essential for keeping your skin healthy! 

Here are the most common warning signs and symptoms of actinic keratosis: 

    • Rough, sandpaper-like patch of skin that’s easier to feel, rather than see. 
    • Textured, scaly bumps that may look like pimples.
    • Elevated spots that may look and feel like a rash. 
    • Patch of rough skin that may be the color of red, pink, gray, brown or flesh-colored. 
    • In some cases, a hard wart-like surface. 
    • Flat, scaly area that looks like an age spot.
    • White, flaky patches on one (or both) lips. 

As mentioned above, actinic keratosis is typically caused by unprotected exposure to UV rays, which means this precancerous skin condition most often shows up on sun-exposed areas. This may include the face, scalp, ears, neck, chest, shoulders, forearms, and back of hands. 


How to Prevent Actinic Keratosis 

While there is no exact way to stop actinic keratosis from forming, there are
preventative steps you can take to significantly reduce your risk

This includes things like wearing sunscreen everyday, protecting your skin from the sun with suitable clothing (i.e. large-brimmed hats, long pants, and long-sleeved shirts), avoiding the sun during peak hours (typically between 11 am and 2 pm), and not using tanning beds. 


How to Diagnose Actinic Keratosis

If you’ve recently spotted a dry, scaly patch of skin or a rough, flakey spot that just won’t go away no matter how often or how much you moisturize, it may be time to see a board-certified dermatologist for a
professional skin evaluation

Since actinic keratosis is one of the most commonly diagnosed skin conditions, many dermatologists can often identify and diagnose it simply by looking at the afflicted area. However, this isn’t always the case, and if there’s any doubt, your dermatologist may do other tests, such as a skin biopsy.


Actinic Keratosis Treatment Options 

There are several ways to treat AK. Your dermatologist will determine which
treatment method is best based on a few factors — your actinic keratoses progression, where the affected areas are located, the severity of the AKs, your skin cancer history, and any other medical conditions you may have. 

Here are the most effective ways we treat actinic keratosis at Cumberland Skin: 

    1. Topicals — Creams, gels, and topical solutions are effective at treating widespread actinic keratoses. They are applied directly to the skin to treat affected areas for varying lengths of time. 
    2. Cryosurgery — Uses a medical device or solution to freeze off the affected skin. Most often, this solution is liquid nitrogen.
    3. Photo Dynamic Therapy — Uses a blue light-activated drug therapy to destroy actinic keratosis cells. 


Find an Effective Actinic Keratosis Treatment at Brentwood Dermatology 

If you think you have actinic keratosis and are located in the Nashville, Lebanon, Hermitage, or Hendersonville area, visit Brentwood Dermatology today. Our team of experienced dermatologists are experts in diagnosing and treating actinic keratosis to help our patients restore the health of their skin! 


Brentwood Dermatology is a leader in skin cancer detection and treatment. If you notice a spot that’s concerning, give us a call at (615) 455-0046 to schedule an appointment right away. 

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