Actinic keratosis (AK) is a rough, scaly, or crusted patch of skin. It often happens from being in the sun. It is not cancer but it can change to squamous cell skin cancer.
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AK is more common in older adults. It is also more common men. Other things that may raise the risk are:
- Fair skin color
- Living in sunny places
- Having a weak immune system, such as from an organ transplant
- Having xeroderma pigmentosum—a rare genetic disorder that causes increased sensitivity to the sun's rays
- Having chronic lymphocytic leukemia—a cancer of the blood and bone marrow
You will be asked about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done.
A biopsy may be done. The skin will be checked for cancer in a lab.
Treatment depends on whether the AK is mild or severe. A mild AK may be watched to check for changes over time. A severe AK may be treated to lower the risk of skin cancer. This may be done with:
- Medicine put on the skin over time to remove the AK
- Photodynamic therapy (may be combined with laser treatment)
To lower the chance of getting AK:
- Limit time in the sun.
- Wear clothing that covers skin that is exposed to the sun.
- Do not use indoor tanning machines.
- 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 website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/actinic-keratosis . Updated August 13, 2019. Accessed November 19, 2019.
Actinic keratosis. The Skin Cancer Foundation website. Available at: http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/actinic-keratosis. Updated May 2019. Accessed November 19, 2019.
de Berker D, McGregor JM, et al. British Association of Dermatologists' guidelines for the care of patients with actinic keratosis 2017. Br J Dermatol. 2017 Jan;176(1):20-43.
Sunscreen FAQs. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/media-resources/stats-and-facts/prevention-and-care/sunscreen-faqs. Accessed November 19, 2019.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board James P. Cornell, MD
- Review Date: 09/2019
- Update Date: 11/19/2019