SolveYourProblem Article Series: Skin Cancer
Help Me Understand Skin Cancer



Actinic Keratosis (Skin Cancer)
- Causes, Symptoms, Treatments

The term 'actinic keratosis' is a reference to a skin abnormality or lesion that may develop due to excessive sun damage. The name is derived from the fact that this condition springs from the keratinocyte cells which make up the majority of the epidermis cells. They can have the appearance of a crusty, scaly sort of lump that grows to about 2mm to 4mm in circumference. They rise up from the upper layer of the epidermis. The base of the lesion may be a combination of colors such as light or dark tan, pink, red or even remain the color of your skin.

The crusty and scaly type surface of these lesions make them normally dry to the touch and at times may they feel itchy or prickly. As they are evidence of irritated skin cells they can at times become inflamed and very red in appearance. They only rarely bleed.

These lesions or spots can typically appear on any area of the skin that is exposed to the sun, such as the face, the backs of the hands or the forearms. Individuals who are fair skinned, with light colored eyes and blond or red hair are higher at risk because they lack the necessary pigment in the skin that serves to protect it. However, darker skinned people are at risk if they receive too much sun exposure as well.

The significance of this type of skin problem is that it can a precursor to developing skin cancer. While it appears that most of the time these lesions will not become cancer - some scientists believe that it is in fact the first stage of the second most common type of skin cancer - that of squamous cell carcinoma. So in essence, these lesions may serve as a warning sign that some action should be taken before matters get worse. It is recommended that an individual ask their doctor to take a look to confirm a diagnosis.

The type of treatment given for this condition will depend on certain factors such as the location of the lesion, the size of it, whether or not it appears to be altering toward malignancy and whether or not a treatment is available or even preferred by the patient.

Some of the options that may be considered include: Cryosurgery, where liquid nitrogen is gently applied to the surface to freeze the lesion. Generally the lesion will either shrink or become crusted and fall off and thus require no surgery. This is the most common approach.

Curettage and desiccation, which is a minor surgical application where local anesthesia is used and the lesion is cut out and the area is sealed with an electrocautery needle. This procedure may be indicated if there is reason to believe the lesion is becoming cancerous.

The use of creams and medications when the lesions are numerous. The patient may be required to follow a regime for a period of time.

Other options may include chemical peeling or laser surgery which is useful for more difficult areas to reach and/or if the patient has a bleeding disorder.

While it is of some concern to notice this condition it is encouraging to know that it is easily treatable and for the majority of people it will not developed into something more serious. Nonetheless, it is recommended that an individual act on the side of caution and have anything that looks unusual checked out by a doctor.

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