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Actinic keratosis

Contents of this page:


Actinic keratosis on the arm
Actinic keratosis on the arm
Actinic keratosis - close-up
Actinic keratosis - close-up
Actinic keratosis on the forearms
Actinic keratosis on the forearms
Actinic keratosis on the scalp
Actinic keratosis on the scalp
Actinic keratosis - ear
Actinic keratosis - ear

Alternative Names    Return to top

Solar keratosis; Sun-induced skin changes - keratosis; Keratosis - actinic (solar)

Definition    Return to top

Actinic keratosis is a precancerous growth on the skin.

Causes    Return to top

Actinic keratosis is caused by sun exposure. It occurs most commonly in fair skin, especially in the elderly and in young people who have light skin.

Symptoms    Return to top

The skin lesion may be easier to feel than to see.

Exams and Tests    Return to top

The health care provider makes the diagnosis based on the appearance of the skin growth. A skin biopsy may reveal any cancerous changes, if they occur.

Treatment    Return to top

Because actinic keratoses are precancerous changes, have them examined promptly. Follow your health care provider's advice for treatment.

Growths may be removed by:

Growths may also be treated with medications that cause the skin to peel or come off. More recently, lasers and other light sources have been used to treat actinic keratoses.

Creams such as 5-fluorouracil and imiquimod are used for people who have many lesions. These creams usually cause irritation and redness.

Outlook (Prognosis)    Return to top

Actinic keratosis itself is benign, but it may develop into skin cancer. If left untreated, approximately 1% of actinic keratoses develop into squamous cell carcinoma.

Removal of the growth is usually effective.

Possible Complications    Return to top

When to Contact a Medical Professional    Return to top

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if areas of persistent roughness or scaliness develop in sun-exposed skin.

Prevention    Return to top

Ways to prevent actinic keratosis:

References    Return to top

de Berker D, McGregor JM, Hughes BR. Guidelines for the management of actinic keratoses. Br J Dermatol. 2007;156:222-230.

Update Date: 10/11/2008

Updated by: Kevin Berman, MD, PhD, Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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