Also known as solar keratoses, actinic keratoses are scaly, crusty lesions that occur due to unprotected exposure to UV light. At Worcester Dermatology in Worcester, MA, we get a lot of questions about these lesions. Today, we answer our most frequently asked questions about these lesions, including what happens if they are left untreated.
8 FAQs About Actinic Keratoses Answered
1. What Happens if Actinic Keratoses Go Untreated?
If actinic keratoses go untreated, skin cancer can occur. If you have had these lesions in the past, they went away on their own, and then they came back after repeated ultraviolet exposure, call Worcester Dermatology in Worcester, MA to make an appointment.
Just because you got lucky the first time you let these lesions go untreated doesn’t mean you will get lucky a second time. Over 48 Americans die of skin cancer every day in the United States. Leaving actinic keratoses untreated is not worth the risk of death.
2. How Can I Prevent Them From Occurring in the Future?
Once your lesions are treated, there are steps you can take to prevent them from occurring in the future. Because they are caused by UV damage, take special care to prevent your skin from ultraviolet rays. Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects you from both UVA and UVB rays. If you have darker skin, you can get away with an SPF 15 sunscreen.
If you know you will spend a significant amount of time in the sun or you have lighter skin, you must wear a sunscreen with a sun protection factor of at least 30. Do your best to minimize time spent outside between 10 AM and 4 PM when the sun is at its strongest.
3. What Treatment Options Do I Have?
Luckily, there are several treatment options for these lesions. If you only have one lesion, we usually recommend freezing the growth with liquid nitrogen. However, this highly effective approach is not recommended for a large cluster of lesions.
If you have a significant number of lesions, we recommend applying 5-FU, also known as 5-fluorouracil, to the affected area daily for three to six weeks. Other effective topical medications include Solareze gel and Aldara cream. However, these topical treatments are primarily recommended to impede the development of growths that are just beginning.
4. Where Am I at Risk of Developing These Lesions?
These lesions can develop anywhere that has been exposed to sunlight for years. They most commonly occur on the forearms and the backs of your hands. However, they may also occur on the neck, lips, ears, and face. If you regularly receive UV exposure from tanning beds, you may develop these lesions on your abdomen or thighs.
5. What Are the Symptoms of This Condition?
The most common symptom of actinic keratosis is a rough, scaly, or dry patch of skin. This patch will probably be less than an inch in diameter. They can be brown, red, or pink.
Most of them are flat, but they may be raised slightly, resembling a bump on the outermost layer of the skin. Sometimes, they are hard and resemble a wart. Finally, you may feel burning or itching in the region.
6. What Are the Risk Factors of This Condition?
Anyone can get this condition. However, you are more likely to get it if you have a weak immune system due to AIDS, organ transplant medications, leukemia, or chemotherapy. You are also at a higher risk of developing this condition if you have blond or red hair or light-colored eyes, like blue. If you tend to freckle or burn, you are at very high risk.
People over the age of 40 are also at high risk. Similarly, living in a sunny place or having an extended history of intense or frequent sunburn or unprotected sun exposure puts you at greater risk. Finally, you have a high risk of developing this condition if you have a personal history of skin cancer or solar keratosis, whether it was cancerous or not.
7. How Is This Condition Diagnosed?
Actinic keratosis is diagnosed by a visual examination of the skin. In rare cases, a skin biopsy will be ordered. This skin biopsy is completely safe and comfortable as it is performed after a numbing injection has taken effect. If you are diagnosed with actinic keratosis, you should come in at least annually to ensure you don’t have any signs of skin cancer.
8. What Can I Expect During My Appointment?
During your appointment, your dermatologist will perform a visual inspection of your skin. This is almost always enough to diagnose you with actinic keratosis. He will also ask you several questions, such as when you first noticed the lesion and if you have noticed multiple lesions. Your dermatologist will also want to know if the condition is bothersome.
Be prepared to talk about any changes you have noticed regarding the appearance of the lesions. You will also be asked about preventative measures you have taken, such as not being exposed to the sun and other UV radiation sources regularly and wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen frequently.
Learn More Today
If left untreated, actinic keratoses can cause cancerous cells. However, if you have the condition, there is hope. To learn more about treatment for this condition, please contact us at Worcester Dermatology in Worcester, MA today to schedule your initial consultation. Your health is our priority.