Actinic keratosis also known as AK or solar keratosis, is a common example of sun-diseased skin that can lead to skin cancer. Although usually not life threatening, it can bleed, ulcerate, become infected, or grow large and invade the surrounding tissues.
By: Natasha Morgan
If you have fair skin and light colored eyes you are at greater risk to sun damaged skin than your darker skinned sisters. However, you should be aware that no one is immune to the ravages of the sun if you spend time outdoors without protection. Not only will your skin develop signs of premature aging, you are placing yourself in harm’s way.
Actinic keratosis also known as AK or solar keratosis, is a common example of sun-diseased skin that can lead to the development of skin cancer. Although usually not life threatening, provided it is detected and treated in the early stages, it can bleed, ulcerate, become infected, or grow large and invade the surrounding tissues.
What causes AK?
Lifetime exposure to ultraviolet rays produced by the sun, not recent sun-tanning is the usual cause, as sun damage to the skin accumulates over a period of time. Since the average twenty year old has already been exposed to more sun than she’ll experience for the remainder of her lifetime, it is not unusual to have keratoses appear early. However, the good news is that half of the keratosis will go away on their own if one avoids all sun for a few years.
How do can I avoid it?
Since ultraviolet rays are reflected by sand, snow, and water we should avoid sun exposure in these situations without adequate protection. Don’t be fooled by over-cast conditions as most damaging rays can pass through clouds. Increasingly, UV rays maybe be getting through the thinning ozone layer, thereby adding to the risk. Individuals who are immunosuppressed as a result of cancer chemotherapy, AIDS, or organ transplantation, are advised to go outside well protected and avoid sun exposure whenever possible.
What part of my body is most at risk?
Face, ears, bald scalp, neck, backs of hands and forearms, and lips.
How can I recognize AK?
A scaly or crusty bump is formed on the skin surface.
It tends to lie flat against the skin of the head or neck and be elevated on arms and hands.
It ranges in size from small as a pinhead to an inch across.
It can be light or dark, tan, pink, red, a combination of these, or the same color as ones skin.
The scale or crust is horn-like, dry, and rough.
It is often easier recognized by touch rather than visually.
It occasionally itches or produces a pricking or tender sensation, especially after sun exposure.
I may disappear and reappear at a later time.
Several actinic keratoses may show up at the same time.
What should I do if I suspect I have AK?
There are a number of effective treatments for eradicating actinic keratoses. Not all keratoses need to be removed. The decision on whether and how to treat is based on the nature of the lesion, age, and health. Only your health professional is equipped to accurately diagnose and treat AK.
This article is written for information purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice.
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