Actinic Keratosis (AK)

What is actinic keratosis (AK)?

Actinic keratosis or solar keratosis occurs from long term, continuous exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. This continuous exposure can be from the sun or from tanning beds. Actinic keratosis is a scaly, rough, crusty patch or bump on the surface of the skin. These lesions are also called precancerous spots and most commonly occur on the face, lips, ears, scalp, backs of hands, forearms, or neck. They take years to develop and can vary in size and color. Some may be light, dark, skin color, red, or pink. They also may feel prickly or itchy, especially after being exposed to the sun. 
These lesions are concerning because they can be a precursor to skin cancer. Avoiding the sun and protecting your skin with sunblock and/or protective clothing can help to prevent the formation of skin cancer. Avoiding sun exposure can also help actinic keratosis go away on its own. Although, in some cases the lesions may go away and then come back. Finding and treating actinic keratosis early will also help to prevent skin cancer. 
Risk factors
  • Being over age 40
  • Living somewhere very sunny
  • Using tanning beds
  • Tendency to freckle or burn after sun exposure
  • Weakened immune system: People who have AIDS, leukemia, receive chemotherapy, take organ transplant medications, and any other people who have a weakened immune system are at increased risk for developing actinic keratosis.
  • Frequent and intense sun exposure and sunburn
  • Red or blonde hair
  • Blue or light colored eyes
  • Having a history of actinic keratosis or skin cancer
  • Having pale skin
  • Having a condition that makes you more sensitive to the sun such as albinism
Actinic keratosis is diagnosed by examination and feeling of the skin by your doctor. A skin sample (biopsy) can also be taken and analyzed in a lab to provide a more definitive diagnosis. Your doctor may also ask you questions about your medical history and history of exposure to UV rays. 
Actinic keratosis can go away on its own but can return with additional UV ray exposure. Common treatments for actinic keratosis include:
  • Prescription creams
  • Photodynamic therapy
  • Freezing (cryotherapy)
  • Curettage (scraping)
  • Laser surgery
  • Topical chemotherapy
  • Chemical peels
  • Most cases of actinic keratosis occur after age 40 but can appear even in people in their early 20s who have had a lot of sun exposure.
  • An estimated 10-15% of active lesions will progress to squamous cell carcinoma (a type of skin cancer)
  • Approximately 80% of a person’s lifetime sun damage is thought to occur before 18 years of age
about actinic keratosis (AK)

  • “Actinic Keratosis.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 09 Nov.  2016. Web. 10 Aug. 2017.
  • “Actinic Keratosis.” John’s Hopkins Medicine. John’s Hopkins Medicine Health Library, n.d. Web. 10 Aug. 2017. 
  • “Actinic Keratosis: Overview.” American Academy of Dermatology, n.d. Web. 10 Aug. 2017. 
  • “Actinic Keratosis.” American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, n.d. Web. 10 Aug. 2017.
  • “Actinic Keratosis.” U.S. National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine PubMed Health, n.d. Web. 10 Aug. 2017.


Skin cancer is currently the most common form of cancer in the United States, with roughly 8,500 Americans being diagnosed every day. Fortunately, the survival rate of skin cancer is very high if caught early. While skin cancer can be inherited through genetics, there are precautionary measures you can take to lower your risk. Here are three ways to prevent skin cancer:
skin cancer detection & prevention - three tips


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