• Actinic Keratosis



    Actinic keratosis (AK) is abnormal growth of the skin. It results in a rough, scaly, or crusted patch of skin. AK tends to occur on sun-damaged skin.
    AK is not cancer but it can sometimes change to squamous cell skin cancer. Treatment includes removing lesions and monitoring for skin cancer.
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    AK is caused by long term excessive sun exposure. Ultraviolet rays from sunlight can cause skin damage. Over time, this damage can cause abnormal growth of the skin, which may lead to AK or other disorders.

    Risk Factors

    Factors that may increase your chance of AK include:
    • Fair skin color
    • Easy sunburning
    • Extra exposure to sun
    • Occupations or pastimes in sunlight such as farmer, lifeguard, or athlete in outdoor sports


    Symptoms may include:
    • Spotted or smeared red, thinning skin
    • Rough, scaly, or crusted patches


    You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
    A biopsy of the lesion may be done. The skin will be closely examined for cancer.


    AK lesions increase the risk of skin cancer. The lesions are usually removed to decrease this risk. The lesion will also be monitored for signs of cancer.
    The exact method of removal will be determined by the number and location of the lesions.
    AK may be removed with:
    • Surgery
    • Cryosurgery
    • Chemical peel
    • Photodynamic therapy (may be combined with laser treatment)
    Medications may also be applied over the skin. More than one treatment may be required. Over time, the medication will remove the AK. Medication may be an option for people with multiple AKs.
    The procedures and medications will remove AK and allow healthy skin to grow in its place. Most treatments have some risk of scarring or discoloration of the skin.


    To help reduce your chance of AK:
    • Avoid sun exposure.
    • Protect your skin when outdoors. Wear long sleeves, long pants or a long skirt. Use a wide-brimmed hat, especially during the middle of the day.
    • Use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.


    American Academy of Dermatology http://www.aad.org

    American Osteopathic College of Dermatology http://www.aocd.org


    Canadian Cancer Society http://www.cancer.ca

    Canadian Dermatology Association http://www.dermatology.ca


    Actinic keratosis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114721/Actinic-keratosis. Updated July 10, 2017. Accessed September 1, 2017.

    Actinic keratosis. The Skin Cancer Foundation website. Available at: http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/actinic-keratosis. Accessed September 1, 2017.

    Jeffes EW III, Tang, EH. Actinic keratosis. Current treatment options. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2000;1(3):167-179.

    Rivers JK, Arlette J, Shear N, et al. Topical treatment of actinic keratoses with 3.0% diclofenac in 2.5% hyaluronan gel. Br J Dermatol. 2002;146(1):94-100.

    Stockfleth E, Meyer T, Benninghoff B, Christophers E. Successful treatment of actinic keratosis with imiquimod cream 5%: a report of six cases. Br J Dermatol. 2001;144(5):1050-1053.

    Sunscreen FAQs. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/media-resources/stats-and-facts/prevention-and-care/sunscreen-faqs. Accessed September 1, 2017.

    Revision Information

    • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board James Cornell, MD
    • Review Date: 09/2017
    • Update Date: 10/20/2014
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