Actinic Keratosis Treatment in Sarasota

dermatologist using a magnifying glass to examine a patient's face

Your skin health is a fundamental aspect of your overall well-being. While there is a lot of talk about how to age gracefully with the help of various cosmetic dermatology treatments, no improvement in the appearance of your skin can outweigh the benefits of dermatologic health. This includes knowing and managing your risk of developing skin cancer. According to studies, only about 10 percent of actinic keratoses turn into skin cancer. That said, most cases of squamous cell carcinomas that are diagnosed begin as AKs.

Even though 10 percent sounds like a low number, you can benefit from talking to a dermatologist about those spots or rough patches on your skin. Here at SkinSmart Dermatology in Sarasota, we provide comprehensive care that seeks to identify and address potential problems before they become a serious concern. To schedule a consultation today, contact us at 941-308-7546.

What is Actinic Keratosis?

An actinic keratosis, also known as a solar keratosis, is a common premalignant skin lesion. An actinic keratosis occurs when the cells that comprise 90 percent of the epidermis, the keratinocytes, change their size, shape or organization in a process called cutaneous dysplasia. This alters the texture of the skin surface and may extend deeper, into the dermis. It is the result of excessive exposure to ultraviolet light. The two most common forms of exposure are the sun and indoor tanning. Usually, because of the way that UV light affects the skin cells far beneath the surface, one AK is an indication of several. Having actinic keratosis puts you at risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer that can be invasive. With early treatment, this can be prevented.

What Are the Causes of Actinic Keratosis?

Such a lesion is typically caused by chronic exposure to sunlight, particularly ultraviolet light and is therefore mainly found on areas of the body most frequently exposed to the sun. While not a skin cancer, an actinic keratosis, left untreated, may develop into an squamous cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer capable of metastasizing and even resulting in death. Although not dangerous in itself, an actinic keratosis must always be taken seriously and examined and treated by a dermatologist.

What Are the Symptoms of Actinic Keratosis?

An actinic keratosis appears as a scaly reddish or tan lesion on the epidermis, or surface layer of the skin. It may manifest as rough or scaly skin, bumps, mottled patterns, or protrusions called cutaneous horns. Actinic keratoses usually appear on the face, including the ears and lips, or on the neck, arms and hands.The lesions may range in size from a pinpoint to several centimeters in diameter and may be yellow, brown, red or violet in color, and smooth, wrinkled or furrowed in texture.

This form of sun damage may look like a crusty or scaly patch of dry skin. Actinic keratoses may be one of several different colors, such as red, pink, white, dark tan, or even flesh-toned. Some AK lesions are flat and rough and others are raised. They can appear on any part of the body that receives too much sun exposure. Common areas include the scalp, face, nose, lips, ears, neck, shoulders, forearms, and backs of the hands. It is not uncommon for an AK to form on the lower lip. This is called actinic cheilitis.

Risk Factors for an Actinic Keratosis

Fair-skinned individuals, aged 40 to 50 years of age, are more prone to actinic keratosis. Nonetheless, individuals of any age may develop such lesions, particularly in warm, sunny climates. Teenagers are often diagnosed with the condition. Actinic keratosis is also more likely to occur in individuals who spend a great deal of time in the sun, or who frequent tanning parlors.

How Is Actinic Keratosis Diagnosed?

A dermatologist should always be consulted about any suspicious lesion on the skin. Unless such a lesion is immediately identifiable by the physician as benign, a surgical biopsy may be performed to determine whether it is premalignant or cancerous. The biopsy procedure is small and painless and takes place in the doctor’s office. A pathology report will be available in a week or two to determine whether further treatment is necessary.

How Is Actinic Keratosis Treated?

Depending on the location and severity of the lesion, an actinic keratosis may be treated in a number of ways. The patient and doctor will decide on methodology in consultation. These may include:

  • Cryotherapy, or freezing
  • Curettage, or scraping
  • Application of cream or ointment
  • Chemical peeling

Who Is At Risk for Developing Actinic Keratosis?

The primary risk factor for developing actinic keratosis is having had too much sun exposure. This exposure could have occurred during childhood, many years before the AK shows up on the skin. If you remember having bad sunburns as a child or during your teen or early adult years, you may have an elevated risk of developing actinic keratosis. If you engaged in indoor tanning even once, your risk of having actinic keratoses at some point is higher than it would be without that factor. Having a lighter complexion can also increase the risk of this condition, though it is important to understand that any tone of skin that receives too much UV light exposure could be affected by precancerous growths.

Fair-skinned individuals, aged 40 to 50 years of age, are more prone to actinic keratosis. Nonetheless, individuals of any age may develop such lesions, particularly in warm, sunny climates. Teenagers are often diagnosed with the condition. Actinic keratosis is also more likely to occur in individuals who spend a great deal of time in the sun, or who frequent tanning parlors.

Are There Any Treatment Options for Actinic Keratosis?

Your dermatologist can develop an AK treatment plan just for you! Getting early treatment for an unusual growth or spot can restore better-looking skin and also give you peace of mind that your skin is better protected from future skin cancer. Dermatologic treatments for actinic keratosis are devised to remove the abnormal skin cells. The form of treatment that is recommended depends on the area in which the AK has developed, its size, and other factors. Some of the common treatment options considered for this condition include chemical peels, scraping the skin cells away (curettage), freezing the abnormal cells (cryotherapy), or applying a prescription medication to the lesion to destroy the abnormal cells.

How Can I Find Out Which Treatment Option is Best for Me?

If you are noticing signs of sun damage on sun-exposed areas of your body, schedule an appointment with us! The best way to understand your skin better is to consult with an experienced dermatologist. During your consultation and examination, your doctor can show you what to look for to spot abnormalities in your skin. You can obtain answers to questions about sun damage and your skin health overall, and learn about the different treatment options that would be appropriate for your situation. It can be easy to look at a menu of services and conclude that a particular treatment would be best for your needs. However, your doctor will make this determination by considering all relevant factors that could affect your treatment outcome.

Is There Any Way to Prevent Actinic Keratosis?

Because individuals who have had an actinic keratosis are more likely to have another lesion of this type and are also at greater risk of developing a squamous cell carcinoma, they should always opt to have full body checks with their dermatologist at regular intervals. Patients who have been treated for this condition should also avoid sunlight as much as possible. When they are exposed to the sun, they should be careful to wear adequate protection, including sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher, protective sunglasses, long sleeves and long pants whenever possible, and wide-brimmed hats. They should also, of course, avoid tanning parlors.

With sun exposure being the leading risk factor in the development of actinic keratosis, the primary recommendation for prevention is to avoid sun damage. Of course, you cannot live in Sarasota and avoid the sunlight all the time! What you can do is apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen to all sun-exposed areas every day. If you spend more than a few hours in the sun, you must reapply sunscreen in order to sustain a consistent level of protection. In addition to wearing sunscreen daily, it can be beneficial to also wear clothing that protects your skin from the effects of ultraviolet light. Remember to wear sunglasses and a hat, too! This will help protect the delicate skin around your eyes and face.

Schedule Your Appointment Today!

If you are experiencing actinic keratosis and are seeking treatment, visit Sarasota Dermatology. Our providers, including Dr. Elizabeth Callahan, are experienced in actinic keratosis treatment and have been serving the Sarasota community for over 15 years. At SkinSmart Dermatology, we treat a wide variety of skin problems and care for every individual patient with a personal touch. Schedule an appointment by calling 941-308-7546 or fill out the form on our contact page.

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