Have you noticed a rough, scaly patch of skin? It could be actinic keratosis, a precancerous lesion that’s caused by cumulative lifetime sun exposure. It typically develops in areas that have been exposed to UV rays, such as the face, lips, ears, back of your hands, forearms, scalp or neck. This type of growth is usually less than once inch in diameter and may have a shiny, hard or wart-like surface. It can be pink, red, brown or flesh-colored. Since they take years to develop, these lesions are most common in older adults.
Actinic keratosis usually has no signs or symptoms beyond the lesion itself, though sometimes the growth will cause itching or burning. A small percentage of these lesions do develop into skin cancer, so it’s important to see our dermatologist right away if you notice any new growth on your skin (or any change in an existing spot).
Anyone can develop actinic keratosis, but the condition is more common among those older than age 40; who live in a sunny climate or spend a lot of time outdoors; who have had frequent sunburns; who have pale hair and eyes; who have a personal history of skin cancer; or who have a weakened immune system due to a condition like AIDS or leukemia.
While most actinic keratoses are harmless, some will develop into squamous cell carcinoma. Our dermatologist can remove the spot as a precaution and perform a biopsy to determine whether abnormal cells are present. Removal of a single lesion is either done with a scalpel or with a freezing agent (cryotherapy). If you have several of these lesions in one area, topical medications or laser light therapy may be a more effective removal method.
The best way to prevent actinic keratosis is to protect your skin from the effects of UV rays. While you can’t undo previous damage done to your skin, you should always wear sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 whenever outdoors. Avoid the sun at midday, when it tends to be at its strongest. Wear loose, long-sleeved cotton t-shirts with pants, along with a wide-brimmed hat to cover your skin. These precautions are especially important if you are in one of the high-risk groups described above.
If you’re concerned about skin cancer, keep track of the moles and other blemishes on your skin so you can see our dermatologist if you notice any changes. In addition, an annual skin check-up can help find signs of skin cancer early, when it’s easiest to treat. If you haven’t had your skin examined by a professional in a while, visit Dr. Yeoman’s Dermatology Office, with locations in Poplar Bluff and Paragould. Contact us today to schedule your appointment.