Actinic Keratosis (AK)

Medically reviewed by The Dermatologists and written by Dr. Alexander Börve

Common More than 20,00,000 US cases per year  

  • Requires medical diagnosis
  • Symptoms: Rough-feeling patch, constantly dry lips, itching or burning, rough and painful patches
  • Color: Typically red-brown
  • Location: Anywhere on the skin most exposed to the sun
  • Treatment: Lubrication, laser surgery, chemical peels, phototherapy
 
ICD-10: L57.0 ICD-9: 702.0


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Last updated on May 06, 2024

Actinic keratoses (singular- actinic keratosiss) are red scaly spots on the skin caused by sun exposure and represent a precursor to squamous cell skin cancer.

Actinic Keratosis (AK) (05) hand [ICD-10 L57.0]

Actinic keratosis (AK) on the hand, displaying rough, scaly patches of skin caused by prolonged sun exposure

An example of Actinic Keratosis on the Hand

The risk of actinic keratosis increases with age and is more common for people with lighter skin and hair, weak immune systems, or a history of intense sunburns are more susceptible to the condition. It is important to have a dermatologist treat your actinic keratoses because these can develop into squamous cell carcinoma if left untreated.

Concerned about rough, scaly patches on your skin? Early detection can save your life. Consult an online dermatologist today and get peace of mind within hours.

 

Symptoms of Actinic Keratosis

Actinic keratoses are small red scaly spots, most often found on the scalp of balding men, the face, the ears, and anywhere else that is sun exposed. The scale can come and go. With time, scale can accumulate and the lesion can grow larger.

  • Rough, Scaly Patches: Under 1 inch, varying in color from pink to brown.
  • Texture: Flat to raised, sometimes wart-like.
  • Sensations: Itching, burning, potentially bleeding or crusting.
  • Common Locations: Scalp (especially in balding men), face, ears, neck, hands, and forearms.

Eventually, an actinic keratosis can develop into a squamous cell skin cancer which tend to be thicker red lesions with more scale.

Actinic keratosis (AK) on skin: a rough, scaly patch with a reddish base, typical symptoms of AK (ICD-10 L57.0)

Actinic Keratosis (AK) on the skin, displaying a rough, scaly patch with a reddish base, commonly caused by prolonged sun exposure (ICD-10 L57.0)

 

Actinic Keratosis (AK) on skin showing multiple rough, scaly, pinkish-red lesions, indicating sun damage (ICD-10 L57.0)

Actinic Keratosis (AK) on the skin, featuring multiple rough, scaly, pinkish-red lesions resulting from prolonged exposure to ultraviolet radiation (ICD-10 L57.0)

 

Actinic Keratosis (AK) on the forehead showing subtle, pinkish-red rough patches, indicative of sun damage (ICD-10 L57.0)

Actinic Keratosis (AK) on the forehead, displaying subtle, pinkish-red rough patches caused by prolonged exposure to ultraviolet radiation (ICD-10 L57.0)

 

ctinic Keratosis (AK) on the nose showing a red, slightly raised lesion, indicating potential sun damage (ICD-10 L57.0)

Actinic Keratosis (AK) on the nose, featuring a red, slightly raised lesion, typically caused by prolonged UV exposure (ICD-10 L57.0)

 

What can I do?

Avoiding excessive exposure to the sun is the best way to prevent actinic keratosis.

You can wear a sun hat and clothing to protect your skin from sun. For the parts that cannot be protected with clothing, such as the face and hands, you can apply sunscreen with a good sun protection factor (SPF). You can consult a dermatologist to choose the best option for you.

To effectively prevent actinic keratoses, consider adopting these sun safety measures:

  • Limit Sun Exposure: Particularly between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., avoiding sunburn and tanning.
  • Use Sunscreen: Apply a broad-spectrum SPF 30+ sunscreen on all exposed skin and lips, even on cloudy days, reapplying every two hours or after sweating or swimming.
  • Infant Care: Keep babies under 6 months out of direct sunlight, using shade and protective clothing instead.
  • Cover Up: Wear tightly woven clothing and broad-brimmed hats for added protection.
  • Avoid Tanning Beds: The UV damage is comparable to sun exposure.
  • Regular Skin Checks: Monitor for new or changing skin growths and consult a healthcare provider with any concerns.

It is important to have a dermatologist treat your actinic keratosis to prevent it from developing into squamous cell carcinoma.

Concerned about rough, scaly patches on your skin? Early detection can save your life. Consult an online dermatologist today and get peace of mind within hours.

 

Should I seek medical care?

Because actinic keratosis can develop into skin cancer, you should treat it as soon as possible to reduce the risk of squamous cell carcinoma. Up to 10% of cases of actinic keratosis  lead to squamous cell carcinoma, so it is advised that you consult a dermatologist.

 

Treatment for Actinic Keratosis

Actinic keratoses may be treated in several ways. Topical creams can treat actinic keratosis before it becomes cancerous. Laser surgery, chemical peels, and cryotherapy are other options for removing the lesions.

References

American Academy of Dermatology Association. Actinic Keratosis: Diagnosis and Treatment. Available at: https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/skin-cancer/actinic-keratosis-treatment

Cunningham TJ, Tabacchi M, Eliane JP, Tuchayi SM, Manivasagam S, Mirzaalian H, Turkoz A, Kopan R, Schaffer A, Saavedra AP, Wallendorf M, Cornelius LA, Demehri S. Randomized trial of calcipotriol combined with 5-fluorouracil for skin cancer precursor immunotherapy. J Clin Invest. 2017;127(1):106-116. doi:10.1172/JCI89820. PubMed PMID: 27869649; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5199703.

De Berker D, McGregor JM, Hughes BR, on behalf of the British Association of Dermatologists Therapy Guidelines and Audit Subcommittee. Guidelines for the management of actinic keratoses. Br J Dermatol. 2007;156(2):222-230. First published January 12, 2007. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2133.2006.07692.x.

 

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