Actinic keratosis (AK) is abnormal growth of the skin. It results in a rough, scaly, or crusted patch of skin. AK tends to occur on sun-damaged skin.
AK is caused by long term excessive sun exposure. Ultraviolet rays from sunlight can cause skin damage. Over time, this damage can cause abnormal growth of the skin, which may lead to AK or other disorders.
Factors that may increase your chance of AK include:
Symptoms may include:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
A biopsy of the lesion may be done. The skin will be closely examined for cancer.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. AK lesions increase your risk of skin cancer. The lesions are usually removed to decrease this risk. The lesion will also be monitored for signs of cancer.
The exact method of removal will be determined by the number and location of the lesions.
AK may be removed with:
Medications may also be applied over the skin. More than one treatment may be required. Over time, the medication will remove the AK. Medication may be an option for people with multiple AKs.
The procedures and medications will remove AK and allow healthy skin to grow in its place. Most treatments have some risk of scarring or discoloration of the skin.
American Academy of Dermatology
American Osteopathic College of Dermatology
Canadian Cancer Society
Canadian Dermatology Association
Actinic keratosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated February 21, 2014. Accessed August 8, 2014.
Actinic keratosis. The Skin Cancer Foundation website. Available at: http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/actinic-keratosis. Accessed August 8, 2014.
Jeffes EW III, Tang, EH. Actinic keratosis. Current treatment options. Am J Clin Dermatol. 2000;1(3):167-179.
Rivers JK, Arlette J, Shear N, et al. Topical treatment of actinic keratoses with 3.0% diclofenac in 2.5% hyaluronan gel. Br J Dermatol. 2002;146(1):94-100.
Stockfleth E, Meyer T, Benninghoff B, Christophers E. Successful treatment of actinic keratosis with imiquimod cream 5%: a report of six cases. Br J Dermatol. 2001;144(5):1050-1053.
Sunscreen FAQs. American Academy of Dermatology website. Available at: https://www.aad.org/media-resources/stats-and-facts/prevention-and-care/sunscreen-faqs. Accessed October 20, 2014.
Last reviewed September 2015 by James Cornell, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.