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Sun Damage

Actinic keratoses (AKs) are dry, scaly, rough-textured patches or lesions that form on the outermost layer of the skin after years of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, such as sunlight. These lesions typically range in color from skin-toned to reddish brown and in size from that of a pinhead to larger than a quarter. Occasionally, a lesion grows to resemble an animal horn and is called a “cutaneous horn.”

It is important that anyone with AKs be under a dermatologist’s care. AKs are considered the earliest stage in the development of skin cancer and have the potential to progress to squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer that can be fatal. Anyone who develops AKs has extensive sun-damaged skin. This damage makes one more susceptible to other forms of skin cancer.

Individuals with fair skin, a history of cumulative sun exposure, or a weak immune system are at greatest risk for developing AKs. These lesions develop on areas of the body that have received years of sun exposure such as the face, ears, lip, scalp, forearms and back of the hands. AKs usually appear after age 40 because they take years to develop. However, even teens can have AKs when they live in areas that receive high-intensity sunlight year round.

Millions of Americans have AKs, and the number continues to grow. In fact, AKs are so common today that treatment for these lesions ranks as one of the most frequent reasons people consult a dermatologist.

What to Expect Following Treatment:

When caught in the early stages, AKs and all types of skin cancer are treatable and in most cases, curable. The key to early detection is frequent skin examinations. Performing regular self-examinations and being screened by a dermatologist can help detect AKs and skin cancer in the earliest and most treatable stages.

If you find a suspicious skin lesion, be sure to see a dermatologist for diagnosis — even if the lesion seems to appear and then disappear for weeks or months and reappear. Dermatologists receive extensive medical training in skin conditions and have the experience necessary to diagnose various skin lesions. An accurate diagnosis is the first step to successful treatment.