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Home :: Keratosis, Actinic

Actinic Keratosis

Actinic keratosis, also known as a solar keratosis , is a scaly or crusty bump that arises on the skin surface. The base may be light or dark, tan, pink, red, a combination of these, or the same color as the skin. The scale or crust is horny, dry, and rough, and is often recognized by touch rather than sight. Occasionally, it itches or produces a pricking or tender sensation.

Actinic keratosis can be the first step in the development of skin cancer, and, therefore, is considered a pre-cancerous skin condition . The presence of actinic keratoses indicates that sun damage has occurred and that any kind of skin cancer can develop.


Keratoses occur after prolonged exposure to the sun's radiation. The following factors contribute to their formation:

  • Outdoor athletic activities and sports.
  • Outdoor occupations such as farming.
  • Light complexion.
  • Repeated skin injury from excessive perspiration and heat, or friction with clothing and protective gear.

Signs and symptoms

The signs and symptoms of actinic keratosis include:

  • Flat to slightly raised, scaly patches on the top layer of your skin
  • Lesions on your skin ranging in color from pink to red to brown, or flesh-colored

Patches or lesions caused by actinic keratosis usually are 1 inch or less in diameter and primarily are found on areas exposed to the sun, including your face, lips, ears, back of your hands, forearms, scalp and neck. There may be a single lesion or more. Later, lesions can develop a hard, wart-like surface.

If you have a skin lesion that persists, grows or bleeds, see your doctor.


A specialist in skin conditions, called a dermatologist, can recognize actinic keratoses during a routine skin exam. AKs that are larger and very thick need to be removed through a procedure called a biopsy. The doctor will numb the area, then cut the growth from the skin. The growth is then examined under a microscope for abnormalities. Any skin growth that undergoes a change in appearance, such as bleeding or rapid growth, should be examined. It is important to diagnose actinic keratoses in the early stages, before they can become cancerous.


Medical Treatment- All patches require treatment to prevent skin cancer. Your doctor may use:

  • Liquid nitrogen to freeze the affected tissue.
  • Applications of various medications to the affected area.

Medication- Your doctor may use:

  • Applications of fluorouracil to the affected area. This causes uncomfortable inflammation, but it is very effective.
  • Application of vitamin A ointment (still experimental).

Home Treatment

  • Minimize direct sun exposure.
  • See your doctor for checkups every 6 months to ensure early detection and treatment of skin cancers.

Protect yourself against direct sun exposure. When outdoors, wear a hat and protective clothing. Use sunscreen lotions and creams, and reapply them often during prolonged exposure.

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Disclaimer: website is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease. Always take the advice of professional health care for specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment. We will not be liable for any complications, or other medical accidents arising from the use of any information on this web site. Please note that medical information is constantly changing. Therefore some information may be out of date.