What is actinic keratosis?
Have you ever seen the face of some elderly persons? How about their hands and arms? Do these areas look smooth? Like a ‘take away’ or kiss-able face? Not all. Alright, let’s get rolling.
Old age is characterized by a rough and sometimes scaly face, hands, and arms. Some elderly persons have pronounced spotted areas on their face and arms. And the colors could be pink, tan, gray or brown. This can be attributed to the abnormal growth of certain skin cells referred to as keratinocytes. The medical term is actinic keratosis. You will usually hear the average person call it sunspots or age spots. This shows that hey, you are not getting any younger.
This condition, I mean spots growth on the body, will normally develop on parts of the body that have been long exposed to the sun – neck, face, scalp, arms, and hands. Excessive exposure to the sun has the ability to damage the areas so exposed.
These sunburn spots, actinic keratosis, don’t have the ability to spread, that is, they are not cancer cells. But they definitely have the ability to advance into a condition called squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) if they are not properly treated. This advanced state, which has been rated the second highly common skin cancer, is however rare to come by.
Causes of actinic keratosis
The main cause of actinic keratosis is overexposure to sunlight but its risk is high in the following instances;
- If you are well above 60
- If your skin is light-colored skin
- If you have got blue eyes
- If you have the likelihood of easily suffering from a sunburn
- If you have got a history of having sunburns in your youth
- If you have a high frequency of been in the sun most of your life
- If you have a virus referred to as HPV – human papillomavirus
Symptoms of actinic keratosis
You will begin to notice pencil-eraser-sized patches on your skin that are scaly, thick, scaly, crusty, and sometimes itchy. These patches can with time, become enlarged, disappear, remain the same, or develop into SCC. There’s no way of knowing which lesions may become cancerous. However, you should have your spots examined by a doctor promptly if you notice any of the following changes:
- hardening of the lesion
- rapid enlargement
Don’t panic if there are cancerous changes. SCC is relatively easy to diagnose and treat in its early stages.
Diagnosis for actinic keratosis
Actinic keratosis can be diagnosed by a mere physical examination of your face. He can take a step further by doing a biopsy of your skin where he will take some tissues from the parts affected for a microscopic examination. A biopsy is what will be used to find out if your actinic keratosis has graduated into a carcinoma.
Treatment for actinic keratosis
Excision involves cutting the lesion from the skin. Your doctor may choose to remove extra tissue around or under the lesion if there are concerns about skin cancer. Depending on the size of the incision, stitches may or may not be needed.
It’s an instance where electric currents are used to ‘burn’ the patches on the affected skin areas. This is done to kill the cells in that particular skin area.
You can as well choose to call it cryosurgery. In this procedure, affected skin parts are sprayed with liquid nitrogen. Nitrogen is a freezing agent. Hence, it will destroy the cells when it comes in contact with them and the spots are ready to fall off after some days.
Topical medical therapy
There are lots of lotions and creams that can be applied on the surface of the affected skin parts. They have the ability to inflame and then destroy the bad cells causing the condition. Common examples include imiquimod (sample trademarks are Zyclara, Aldara), 5-fluorouracil (e.g. Tolak, Efudex, Carac, Fluoroplex etc.) and ingenol mebutate (i.e. Picato).
This involves the use of laser light in the treatment of actinic keratosis. A solution will be applied where the lesions are after which they will be strongly exposed to light. By so doing, the cells will be destroyed.
Some of the top solutions employed are aminolevulinic acid (i.e. Levulan Kerastick) and methyl aminolevulinate (i.e. Metvix). They are all prescription medication.
Prevention of actinic keratosis
There’s no other way to prevent or check your risk of developing an actinic keratosis or even a skin cancer than to limit exposure to sunrays.
You should consider doing the following, too;
- Put on hats when it’s hot.
- Go for long-sleeved shirts especially when you are in bright sunlight.
- Limit how you go out at noon when the sun is likely to be very high.
- As much as you can, do away with tanned beds.
- Using a sunscreen that has an SPF (sunscreen protection factor) protection isn’t a bad idea when you are going out. The SPF should have a minimum rating of 30. The rate can prevent Ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B light rays.
- It’s a beautiful idea to always assess your skin for any changes in your ears, neck, face, arms, and hands. Look out for freckles, bumps, moles, and birthmarks. If you see any of those, plan to see your doctor at once.
Ifiokobong Ene is a Medical Physiologist, and a freelance medical writer. Ifiok brings his years of medical research experience to help consistently create high-quality, and engaging articles and products that uphold the highest medical standards. He is dedicated to making health and wellness information available, actionable, and understandable so that readers can make the best decisions about their health.