Actinic Keratosis can be the first step in the development of skin cancer. Therefore, it is referred to as a precursor of cancer or a precancer. It is estimated that up to 10 percent of active lesions, which are redder and more tender than the rest, will take the next step and progress to squamous cell carcinomas. They are usually not life threatening, provided they are detected and treated in the early stages. However, left untreated, they can grow large and invade the surrounding tissue. On rare occasions, they metastasize or spread to the internal organs.
The most aggressive form of keratosis, actinic cheilitis, appears on the lips and can evolve into squamous cell carcinoma. When this happens, roughly one-fifth of these carcinomas metastasize. The presence of actinic keratoses indicates that sun damage has occurred and that any kind of skin cancer—not just squamous cell carcinoma—can develop.
The look of actinic keratosis varies depending on where it's found on the body:
If you spot any of these, consult your doctor promptly.
Sun exposure is the cause of almost all actinic keratoses. Sun damage to the skin accumulates over time, so that even a brief exposure adds to the lifetime total. The likelihood of developing keratoses is highest in regions close to the equator. However, regardless of climate, everyone is exposed to the sun. Ultraviolet rays reflect off sand, snow, and other surfaces; about 80 percent can pass through clouds.
People who have fair skin, blonde or red hair, blue, green, or gray eyes are at the greatest risk. Because their skin has less protective pigment, they are the most susceptible to sunburn. Even those who are darker-skinned can develop keratoses if they expose themselves to the sun without protection. African-Americans, however, rarely have these lesions.
Individuals, who are immunosuppressed as a result of cancer, chemotherapy, AIDS, or organ transplantation, are also at higher risk.
One in six people will develop an actinic keratosis in the course of a lifetime, according to the best estimates. Older people are more likely than younger ones to have actinic keratoses, because cumulative sun exposure increases with the years.
A survey of older Americans found keratoses in more than half of the men and more than a third of the women aged 65 to 74 who had a high degree of lifetime sun exposure. Some experts believe the majority of people who live to the age of 80 have keratoses. Because more than half of an average person's lifetime sun exposure occurs before the age of 20, keratoses appear even in people in their early twenties who have spent too much time in the sun with little or no protection.
Treatment is available...Come see the Dermatologist for specific treatment.