Understanding Your Actinic Keratosis Diagnosis

Pure Dermatology
December 13, 2023

Actinic keratoses are precancerous skin lesions that affect millions of Americans. The good news: Medical treatment can prevent progression, but it’s essential to seek treatment early. If you have actinic keratosis, here’s what you need to know.

Every year, more than 40 million Americans develop actinic keratoses, precancerous skin growths that typically appear on skin that’s been repeatedly exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. Because it’s related to cumulative UV exposure, actinic keratosis becomes more common as you get older — but the condition can appear at any age, including your 20s and 30s.

At Pure Dermatology in southwest Austin, Texas, Christopher Chu, MD, FAAD, and Chelsey Straight, MD, FAAD, use state-of-the-art techniques to diagnose and treat actinic keratoses, helping patients enjoy healthier skin and preventing progression to skin cancer. Here’s what you should know if you’re diagnosed with actinic keratosis.

Actinic keratosis: The basics

Even though the sun’s warmth feels inviting on your skin, the UV energy can do a lot of damage — some that you can’t even see. As it penetrates your skin, UV radiation alters the skin’s DNA, increasing your risk of skin cancer as you get older.

Too much sun exposure isn’t the only way UV radiation can damage your skin. Tanning beds and sunlamps can have the same effect.

Actinic keratosis is a scaly spot of skin, visual evidence of internal skin damage caused by UV rays. And because it’s related to sun exposure, lesions tend to show up on your face, scalp, ears, hands, and other areas that receive the greatest amount of sun.

Symptoms and risk factors of actinic keratosis

These skin lesions aren’t cancer, but they can — and often do — lead to skin cancer. Knowing what symptoms are associated with actinic keratoses can help you seek treatment as soon as possible.

Actinic keratoses typically look scaly and rough compared to surrounding skin. Many lesions may appear reddish or brownish, and the scaliness may appear lighter than the surrounding skin.

Some lesions may be confused with a wart or pimple, but unlike a pimple, an actinic keratosis lesion doesn't go away over time. The growth can sometimes itch, burn, or feel sore. Anyone can develop actinic keratoses, but they’re most common among people with fair skin, light hair, and light eyes.

Treating actinic keratosis

Wearing sunscreen every day is one of the best ways to prevent actinic keratoses, and wearing clothing that protects your skin from direct rays of the sun is also very important.

If you have a suspected actinic keratosis lesion, our team evaluates your skin, sometimes taking a small sample (biopsy) of the lesion for lab analysis. For lesions that are positive for actinic keratosis, we offer several treatment options to remove them, including:

  • Cryotherapy
  • Shave removal
  • Curettage
  • Electrodesiccation

Your recommended treatment depends on the size, location, and thickness of the lesion, along with other factors.

Removing actinic keratosis lesions helps your skin look better and eliminates uncomfortable symptoms, but the primary reason for removal is to prevent them from developing into cancer. As with other precancerous lesions, early treatment is essential.

Don’t ignore changes in your skin

Because they can resemble some benign skin issues, actinic keratosis lesions aren’t easy to diagnose on your own. If you have any unusual change in your skin, don’t ignore it — have it evaluated as soon as possible.

To schedule a skin exam or to learn more about actinic keratosis treatment, call 512-766-2610 or book an appointment online with the team at Pure Dermatology today.