All about Actinic keratosis

Actinic keratosis is an area of the skin damaged by ultraviolet radiation that appears in zones exposed to the sun for years. Its appearance is variable.

Frequently asked questions about actinic keratosis

Actinic keratosis is not hereditary, although some of the factors that favor its appearance, such as fair skin or freckles, are so. Actinic keratosis is not contagious.

Actinic keratosis is an uncontrolled proliferation of keratinocytes: the most abundant cells of the epidermis (the outermost layer of the skin), that become abnormal4. Some actinic keratoses can turn into a type of skin cancer called epidermoid carcinoma or invasive squamous cell carcinoma1,4. Although rare, this type of cancer can spread to other tissues, and it is therefore recommended to treat all actinic keratoses.

Furthermore, a person with actinic keratosis is at higher risk of developing any type of skin cancer compared to another person of the same age who does not. People who have a higher number of actinic keratoses also run a higher risk of skin cancer.

Some actinic keratoses resolve spontaneously, especially if sunscreen or protection is used, although most remain as they are. Others may progress into invasive squamous cell carcinoma. Unfortunately, it is impossible to know in advance which ones will in fact progress into invasive squamous cell carcinoma. The clinical course of the condition cannot be predicted.

Actinic keratosis lesions can heal and disappear spontaneously or through treatment. However, it is very common for old lesions to recur or for new ones to come out. The presence of a single actinic keratosis is already a sign that chronic damage from solar radiation has occurred, and hence there is a risk that other lesions could appear. Therefore, if you have actinic keratosis, your doctor will monitor you regularly, and will recommend that you seek consultation if you notice new lesions or any changes in the ones you already have.

Protecting yourself from the sun is essential to prevent the appearance of actinic keratosis and slow down progression. Following the following measures strictly is key to keeping actinic keratoses under control:

Use sunscreen and clothing that covers your body.

  • Avoid peak sun hours.
  • Avoid artificial sunlight (sun beds/tanning salons).
  • Check your skin at home and schedule an appointment with the dermatologist on a regular basis.