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Actinic Keratosis: Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors, Treatments

Actinic Keratosis (AK) is a type of skin disorder characterised by rough, dry and scaly patches on the skin developed due to long-term sun exposure. They are precancerous (may cause cancer in the future if left untreated) growth and occur mainly on areas which are exposed more to sunlight, such as the face, lips, arms, hands or bald scalp.

Causes Of Actinic Keratosis

The main cause of AK is sunlight. The chronic exposure to UV rays causes a mutation in the skin cells known as keratinocytes, which is the outermost layer of the skin and also the major cell types. The changes cause keratinocytes to grow abnormally and form lesions, leading to AK.

Symptoms Of Actinic Keratosis

  • Red, brown lesions on the skin
  • Dry, scaly or rough patches that look like a sandpaper
  • Hardening of the skin
  • Itching or burning sensation in the area
  • Slightly raised patches that look like acne or rashes
  • Prickling pain when touched
  • Peeled or cracked lips that never heals
  • White patches and loss of colour in the lips

Risk Factors Of Actinic Keratosis

Living in an area where sunlight is often high.

Occupation that involves long exposure to sunlight.

Using tanning beds. Being above 40 years of age.

Having blonde or light-coloured hair.

Having sensitive skin that tends to burn or itch even after a short duration of sunlight exposure.

History of skin cancer.

Weak immune system.

Infected with Human Papilloma Virus Having fair skin

Complications Of Actinic Keratosis

Some of the complications of AK include:

Enlargement of the affected area.

Bleeding from the lesions.

Cutaneous horn, a horn-like growth on the skin Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), a thickened, enlarged and tender AK is often suspected for SCC.

Other forms of skin cancer such as melanoma and actinic cheilitis.

Complications Of Actinic Keratosis

Some of the complications of AK include:

Enlargement of the affected area.

Bleeding from the lesions.

Cutaneous horn, a horn-like growth on the skin Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), a thickened, enlarged and tender AK is often suspected for SCC.

Other forms of skin cancer such as melanoma and actinic cheilitis.

Diagnosis Of Actinic Keratosis

Common diagnostic methods for AK include:

Physical examination: A medical expert will diagnose AK most of the time just by looking at them. For confirmation, they may suggest a skin biopsy.

Skin biopsy: In this, a small part of the affected skin is taken and viewed for signs of cancer.

Treatment Of Actinic Keratosis

Sometimes AK goes on their own when long exposure to sunlight is paused. However, in most cases, they come back when exposure is increased again.

Common treatment methods include:

Prescribed creams: In the beginning, it is very difficult to identify which lesion will develop into AK. Therefore, when AK progression is mild or moderate, certain prescribed creams are suggested to reduce scaling, redness, dryness and burning sensation in the affected areas.

Scraping: It is a surgical procedure in which the damaged cells are scraped out and destroyed with an electric current.

Cryotherapy: Here, liquid nitrogen is used to freeze the lesions and remove them.