Precancers (Actinic Keratoses)
What is an actinic keratosis?
AKs are a skin condition caused by chronic sun damage. It causes scaly, rough, or bumpy spots on the skin that can appear red or brown. AKs are not cancer but can sometimes change into squamous cell skin cancer, which is the second most common form of skin cancer, so they are important to treat. Having one or more painful sunburns in your life raises your risk of getting AKs.
AKs are most common in people who:
Common places for AKs include sun-exposed areas, which include the:
- Spend a lot of time outside (or did when you were younger).
- Have fair (light) skin and hair, and/or freckles.
- Sunburn easily.
What do AKs look like?
- Scalp, Face, and Neck.
- Tops of ears.
- Backs of the hands and forearms.
- Legs or feet, especially in women.
- Flattish and rough (sandpaper-like feel).
- Red (most often), skin-colored or brown.
- Thick, crusty, or scaly.
- Smooth and red.
AK’s on the lip (actinic cheilitis) will cause a rough, dry, or scaly spot that might crack or have a sore.
How are AKs treated?
Most commonly, they are frozen off with liquid nitrogen (“cryotherapy”) to prevent them from turning into a squamous cell skin cancer.
What to expect after treatment with liquid nitrogen?
Expect some redness, swelling and irritation for around 7-10 days after treatment. Sometimes a blister will form. Thicker or larger lesions may take longer to heal. After 2 weeks, some red or pink may remain, but the spot of skin that was treated should feel smooth. If there is still some roughness or redness, the spot should be retreated. Although most AKs only require one treatment, some may require 2-3 treatments.
Is there any special care needed after treatment with liquid nitrogen?
No special care is required after treatment. You can wash your skin with a gentle cleaner and apply your face products and sunscreens as normal. If you use a harsh product, such as benzoyl peroxide, glycolic acid, salicylic acid, or tretinoin (Retin-A), the treated spots may be irritated for longer.
Can AKs be prevented?
Yes, protect your skin and lower your chance by:
- Staying out of the sun, especially at the highest times of UV exposure (10 a.m. to 4 p.m.).
- Wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen. An SPF of 50 is best, but an SPF of at least 30 is recommended.
- Reapplying sunscreen every 2 hours to exposed areas of skin.
- Wearing a wide-brimmed hat, long-sleeved shirt, long pants, or long skirt outside.
- DO NOT use tanning beds.
Since there are multiple treatments for AKs, our providers consider each patient individually to develop a treatment plant that is most suitable. Please contact CLEAR Dermatology and Aesthetics Center
if you would like to be checked for precancers.