Actinic Keratosis

What it is:

Actinic Keratosis (AK) is also known as a pre-cancer of the skin. If left untreated, an AK can become a type of skin cancer known as squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). AK is more common in older people with fair complexion, blond or red hair, and blue, green or grey eyes. However, even people in their 20s can get AKs. Increased sun exposure over many years is the cause of most AKs.

What it looks like:

An AK is a scaly or crusty growth. It often appears on the bald scalp, face, ears, lips, backs of the hands and forearms, shoulders, neck or any other areas of the body exposed to the sun. AKs can be red, tan, pink, a combination of these colors, or the same color as your skin. Occasionally they itch, burn or bleed. They can also become inflamed and surrounded by redness.


How we treat it:

The most common treatment for AKs is the use of liquid nitrogen to freeze the affected area. Other treatments include:
  • Topical skin creams such as 5-flurouracil (Efudex, Carac) or Imiquimod (Aldara)
  • Photodynamic therapy (PDT)
  • Chemical peels 
  • Laser resurfacing


Click here to learn more about an ongoing study at the University of Arizona Cancer Center on the treatment of AKs.