What are Actinic Keratoses?
Actinic keratoses (AKs) are rough, scaly patches on the skin, caused by excessive exposure to the sun, that can sometimes progress into dangerous skin cancers such as squamous cell carcinoma.
How do AKs become squamous cell carcinomas?
AKs sometimes can become larger and thicker. These enlarged lesions may then progress to squamous cell carcinomas. Patients may notice increased redness, tenderness, itching, and burning. However, it is difficult to distinguish between an AK and a squamous cell carcinoma without a biopsy. Left untreated, squamous cell carcinomas may become larger, go deeper into the skin, and eventually spread to other parts of the body.
How likely are AKs to become squamous cell carcinomas?
It is impossible to predict if an AK will evolve into a squamous cell carcinoma, or at which point it will happen. Many doctors believe that AKs and squamous cell carcinomas are really the same condition at different stages of a continuing process. This process begins with minor cell damage and, over time, ultimately results in the cell becoming cancerous. A significant percentage of AKs develop into squamous cell carcinomas. Estimates range from 10% to as high as 20% over a 10-year period.
Is there anything I can do to prevent AKs in the future?
Long-term exposure to the sun is the single most significant cause of AKs, so the best defense against them is a comprehensive sun protection program. This includes wearing protective clothing and a wide-brimmed hat, avoiding the sun at midday when ultraviolet rays are strongest, staying in the shade as much as possible, and wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30.