Actinic keratosis is relatively easy to diagnose: it appears as multiple scaly or bumpy patches with a rough, sandpapery texture, and is considered a precancerous condition. It is caused by excessive exposure to UV sunlight (and can be caused by UV exposure from indoor tanning beds) and is more commonly experienced by adults over 40 years of age.
It usually will not go away on its own unless the person completely avoids the sun for two or more years. (Pretty unrealistic—we think that would cause some major seasonal depressive disorder!) Sometimes it will disappear, only to reappear a few months later, so it’s incredibly important to take care of it as soon as you notice it.
Here at the Skin Cancer and Cosmetic Surgery Center (SCCSNJ) located in Edison, New Jersey, Dr. Lombardi has years of training and expertise in assisting patients in identifying and treating cancerous or precancerous lesions.
What exactly does actinic keratosis look like?
It’s most commonly found on the backs of the hands, the lower arms, the face, the ears, and bald scalps—essentially any places that get sunlight often. It may take the form of raised bumps or scaly patches and can take the color of the surrounding skin or be a bit brown or yellow. The rough patches should not hurt or be tender—if they do, they may have already morphed into skin cancer. The best way to keep this from happening is to take care of them before they get to that level!
The good news is that there are many treatment options to eliminate the actinic keratosis before it becomes cancerous.
Treatments for actinic keratosis range from quick fixes to long-term remedies, and from minimal irritation to relatively high (but brief) discomfort, so speak with Dr. Lombardi to determine what the best fit is for you.
Actinic Keratosis Treatments
Treatments range from quick fixes to longer-term remedies, and from minimal irritation to relatively high (but brief) discomfort, so speak to your dermatologist to determine what’s the best fit for you:
- Cryotherapy: uses liquid nitrogen to rapidly freeze the tissue of the precancerous cells, which causes tissue and cell destruction. Since it’s a quick fix and effective 90-95 percent of the time, with rare instances of scarring, this is generally the preferred method for most patients.
- Topical prescription therapy: as of now, there are five topical prescription drugs in the US that have been approved by the FDA to treat actinic keratosis, which work by essentially triggering skin cell “suicide” at the location of application— the body responds to the topical medication by destroying the cells in the area where it is applied, which in their destruction, destroy the actinic keratosis. Some creams can cause irritation and discomfort, while others are milder but take longer to produce visible results (up to 60-90 days).
- Vitamin Supplementation: if you experience actinic keratosis relatively often, your doctor may recommend a specific B vitamin to add to your regimen: vitamin B3 in the form of nicotinamide, which has been proven to drasticall