Actinic keratoses are small rough skin lesions that develop slowly in chronically sun-damaged areas of the face, ears, neck, arms, or legs. They occur mostly in adults who have fair skin and who have also suffered long term repeated sun damage to the skin over years. Though actinic keratoses grow very slowly, they have significant potential to develop into skin cancer of the squamous cell type. Because of this potential, they are considered a pre-cancerous skin growth.
Most actinic keratoses are small pink or white scaly flat bumps. The rough surface may temporarily peel off, only to reform itself within days. Over time, they may become quite thick and hard which suggests that they have progressed into a true skin cancer. People who develop actinic keratoses are at higher risk of developing all forms of skin cancer.
Most actinic keratoses can be treated with a simple freezing technique or scraped off the skin surface. If there are numerous lesions, then they are often treated with Efudex cream that contains a chemotherapy drug. This latter treatment causes considerable irritation side effects but can be quite effective.
Prevention of actinic keratoses is very important and can be accomplished with strict sun avoidance, wear of protective clothing and hats, and use of broad-spectrum sunscreen lotions with high sun protection factor (SPF>30).
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