Unlike the common tho benign seborrheic keratosis that usually requires no treatment, actinic keratosis can progress into squamous cell carcinoma if left untreated. This type of cancer is usually not life-threatening with early detection, so it is of utmost importance to detect actinic keratoses early and treat them promptly to prevent skin cancer. At Knott Street Dermatology, we provide services that identify actinic keratosis and procedures to treat the condition.
Identifying Actinic Keratosis
Rough, scaly patches on the skin that develop from years of exposure to the sun, actinic keratosis is commonly found on the face, lips, ears, back of the hands, forearms, scalp, or neck.
Also known as a solar keratosis, an actinic keratosis enlarges slowly and usually causes no signs or symptoms other than a patch or spot on the skin. These take years to develop, usually first appearing in people over 40. Risk of actinic keratoses can be reduced by minimizing sun exposure and protecting the skin from ultraviolet rays. If left untreated, some spots may progress to squamous cell carcinoma. If treated early, most actinic keratoses can be cleared or removed before they develop into skin cancer.
Cryosurgery for Actinic Keratosis
Actinic keratoses are typically treated with liquid nitrogen sprayed on the area. This treatment is known as cryosurgery or cryotherapy, which does not involve cutting of the skin but uses extreme cold produced by liquid nitrogen to destroy abnormal tissue. Cryosurgery is typically used to treat precancerous lesions. Liquid nitrogen can be applied to the skin with a spraying device or a cotton swab. Mild blistering and tenderness are expected results and part of the normal process for destruction of abnormal tissue.
Topical Chemotherapy for Actinic Keratosis
For conditions such as actinic keratosis, Knott Street Dermatology offers topical chemotherapy treatments, which utilizes anti-cancer medication that is put directly on the skin, usually as a cream or ointment.
Actinic keratosis is often treated with 5-fluorouracil (5-FU), which is also used for some basal and squamous cell skin cancers. 5-FU is usually applied to the skin once or twice-a-day for several weeks.
When applied directly to the skin, topical chemotherapy medication kills tumor cells on or near the surface of the skin, though it cannot reach cells deeper within the skin or those that have spread to other organs. This is why topical medication such as 5-FU is typically used for precancerous conditions such as actinic keratosis and superficial skin cancers.
It doesn’t spread throughout the body and lacks the side effects of systemic chemotherapy. Still, it reddens treated skin and makes it very sensitive for several weeks. Other topical medication can help relieve this. Anti-cancer topical medication can also make the skin sensitive to light, so adequate protection must be taken.
For concerns about medical skin conditions and treatments, reach out to Knott Street Dermatology for a consultation. Knott Street Dermatology treats patients in and around Portland including Happy Valley, Clackamas, Gladstone, Damascus, Gresham, and Fairview.