5 Early Signs You May Have Precancerous Actinic Keratosis


As you grow older, you may begin to develop what people commonly call age spots or sunspots on your face, arms, or hands. Medically, these rough, scaly spots are called actinic keratoses. They typically form due to a common skin condition known as actinic keratosis (AK). And while they are usually benign, actinic keratoses can progress into skin cancer if left untreated. In fact, about 10 percent of these growths develop into squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), the second most prevalent type of skin cancer. This makes detecting and treating them early highly crucial to your health. Below is a review of five warning signs that may mean it is time to see an actinic keratosis Santa Barbara expert.

Lesions in Sun-Exposed Areas

The most tell-tale sign of actinic keratosis is several tan crusts and red lesions on your scalp or forehead. The bumps often appear on parts of the skin that receive the most UV exposure, including the forearms, back of the hands, neck, shoulders, scalp, ears, lips, and face. If you develop a variant of AK called actinic cheilitis, the lesions may appear on your lower lip. These growths are easy to spot if you regularly examine your skin, especially in front of a mirror.

Rough Skin Growths

According to dermatologists, it is easier to feel actinic keratoses than it is to see them. This is because they are usually dry and rough to the touch. In fact, the lesions often appear as crusty, scaly, or dry skin patches. They can be slightly raised or flat and sometimes feature a bump or raised horn shape. Depending on the severity of the condition, the patches can be as tiny as a pimple or as large as an inch in diameter. They are also often scattered across the affected area.

Discolored Skin Patches

AK is caused by the abnormal growth of the keratinocyte skin cells. The mutation often results in scaly, discolored patches of skin that can be brown, skin-colored, pink, tan, white, red, silvery, gray, or a combination of several of these colors. Usually, you will notice an unusually colored patch of skin on your neck, scalp, face, arms, hands, or other body parts that is regularly exposed to sunlight. This is a sign that you should discuss with your dermatologist immediately, especially when the patch is red.

Inflamed Skin

Sometimes, AK can cause your skin to become itchy, painful, sensitive, or feel like it is burning. The feeling may be akin to inflammation and can be very uncomfortable. Although rare, the growths can also develop into a persistent sore or ulceration and bleed occasionally. The best way to address these uncomfortable symptoms is to avoid sun exposure and consult your dermatologist as soon as possible.

Discuss AK Symptoms with Your Dermatologist

Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed type of cancer in the United States. Several factors like prolonged exposure to UV radiation can increase your risk of developing BCC, SCC, MCC, or melanoma. And while only 5 to 10 percent of actinic keratosis cases develop into cancer, most SCC diagnoses start off this way. This is why it is advisable to err on the side of caution and discuss these and other worrying skin changes with your dermatologist. Make an appointment as soon as possible. Early detection and treatment of AK can help save you from the agony of skin cancer.

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