Actinic Keratoses.

Alternative names: solar keratosis, sunspots, sun damage.

What is it?

Actinic keratoses are ill-defined rough patches, ranging in colour from pink to brown and measuring from 0.5 to 3cm in width (see figure). Some can resemble crusty outgrowths when they are particularly thick and raised.

If an AK starts to bleed or rapidly change in appearance or size this may indicate that it is progressing toward squamous cell carcinoma and medical advice must be sought immediately.

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What does it look like?

Actinic keratoses are ill-defined rough patches, ranging in colour from pink to brown and measuring from 0.5 to 3cm in width (see figure). Some can resemble crusty outgrowths when they are particularly thick and raised.

If an AK starts to bleed or rapidly change in appearance or size this may indicate that it is progressing toward squamous cell carcinoma and medical advice must be sought immediately.

How might it affect me?

Actinic keratoses are usually harmless, though they can be itchy and feel rough to the touch. Some people also find their appearance unsightly, particularly when they are on the face.

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What are the treatments?

Actinic keratoses are usually little cause for concern, and small patches may regress by themselves. However, it is important to adopt good sun-protection habits such as using sunscreens and wearing protective clothing on hot days, in order to prevent further skin damage.

Due to the small risk of progression to skin cancer it is generally advisable to treat actinic keratoses. They can also be removed to improve the cosmetic appearance of the skin as a matter of personal choice. A variety of treatments are available and include:

Creams and ointments (5-fluorouracil, imiquimod or diclofenac sodium): these can be used when there are a large number of actinic keratoses, for example on the scalp.
Photodynamic therapy: employs the use of a special cream, which is applied to affected areas and is activated by light of a specific wavelength.
Cryotherapy: involves freezing an affected site with liquid nitrogen.
Curettage or excision: this is performed under local anaesthetic and normally reserved for thicker patches and suspected skin cancers.

Though these options are highly effective, due to prior sun-damage it is likely that more actinic keratoses will develop in the surrounding skin, requiring future treatment.

Our Dermatologists at the Harley Street Dermatology Clinic can offer effective treatment for all types of sun damage including actinic keratoses.

For further information please visit the NHS website and read the British Association of Dermatology Patient leaflet.

Did you know?

Most moles are not a cause for concern and present a purely cosmetic problem. However, moles can occasionally undergo changes that lead to them becoming cancerous.

Acne is a common condition characterised by blackheads, whiteheads and cysts. It affects the greasy and hair-bearing areas such as the face, chest and back.

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