What is Actinic Keratosis (AK)?
Dr Jennifer Crawley sees many patients, at Clinica London, who have dry, red, itchy, scaly skin patches. They are usually older patients. They have been in the sun, and the rest of their skin will show the evidence of that. Evidence in the form of freckles, melasma, and a few moles. They may have already had a skin cancer excised, such as a basal cell carcinoma.
Actinic keratoses (AK) are areas of sun damaged skin. They are usually found in sun-exposed parts of the body. Places where the skin has been exposed to the sun particularly the backs of the hands, the forearms, the forehead, the rest of the face, the ears, the scalp in balding men and lower legs in women. Often we do not think to protect our lower legs, either with clothing or with sunscreen. AK can also occur on the lips. The terms ‘actinic’ and ‘solar’ are from Greek and Latin. They mean sunlight-induced. Keratosis refers to the thickening of the keratin layer of the skin.
Actinic keratoses are usually harmless. There is a real, but small, risk of some of them progressing to form the skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma. Actinic keratoses are not contagious.
Actinic keratoses are caused by excessive sun exposure over many years. Usually from a combination of sunbathing, sunbed use, outdoor work or recreational activities. They are more common in sporty, older people who have played lots of tennis, or in workmen who have worked outdoors on building sites. Actinic keratoses are much more common in fair skinned, blue eyed, red or blonde-haired individuals, who burn quickly in the sun and tan poorly.
Actinic keratoses cause little trouble, apart from being rough, dry and a little bit itchy, sometimes forming a lump and sometimes starting to bleed, so many patients ignore them.
Don’t ignore them; they must be checked by the dermatologist.