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Actinic Keratosis: What is it & How Can it be Treated?

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Actinic Keratoses are the most common skin precancer

Actinic Keratoses (AKs) generally appear after the age of 40 on people with fair skin, blue or green eyes, or those who freckle or burn in the sun.  AKs are also more common on people who live closer to the equator, regardless of skin type, as sun exposure is a significant factor in AK development.  If you have actinic keratoses, you are not alone.  Up to 58 million Americans have AKs.

You’ll find actinic keratoses on the face, back of hands, bald scalp, neck, shoulders and any other skin subjected to frequent sun exposure.  AKs can be tiny or larger than a quarter.  These scaly spots can sometimes itch or be sensitive to the touch.  In some cases, they can also bleed.  Generally, they are red but can appear pink or tan.  AKs can also grow into a protruding bump called a cutaneous horn, which can be painful, get caught on clothing and jewelry and even get infected.

About 10% of AKs progress to squamous cell carcinoma.   This type of cancer is very dangerous if left untreated, as it can spread to internal organs.

photo of an actinic keratosis on a hand

actinic keratosis

Treatment of Actinic Keratoses

We often treat AKs with cryosurgery (a pinpointed spray of liquid nitrogen or applied with a cotton-tipped swab).  I recently treated a female patient in her 50s who had an AK above her lip.  She complained that the scaly spot had cracked and was bleeding while she was eating.  It was raised and a little painful.  Days later, she was pleased to report that after I applied liquid nitrogen to it, the AK is now flat, the flakiness is gone, and there is no more bleeding.

Instead of freezing each AK with liquid nitrogen, there is another treatment option:  photodynamic therapy, also known as blue light therapy.  A recent study compared light therapy to cryotherapy and found that those who had the light treatment were 14% more likely to have their lesions eliminated.  Because AKs are considered pre-cancerous, blue light therapy is covered by Medicare.

Early diagnosis and treatment of AKs are vital because of their potential to progress into skin cancer.  One study has shown that most invasive squamous cell carcinomas originate from AKs.

Call Dr. Golomb today for a skin cancer screening appointment at 855-465-6621.

Dr. Golomb is widely considered one of the top dermatologists in Hallandale Beach.  She welcomes patients for skin cancer screening and treatment from Aventura, Sunny Isles Beach, North Miami Beach, Golden Beach, Pembroke Pines and Hollywood, Fl.  Dr. Golomb is triple board certified in Dermatology, Dermatopathology and Micrographic Dermatologic Surgery (Mohs).


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