Actinic Keratoses affects over 10 million Americans every year

Don't freak out and think that every freckle on your body is Actinic Keratoses or (AK). More often than not, it's just that - a freckle. But just to be sure, let's explore what AK look like, where they appear and what to do if you have doubts.

Actinic or Solar Keratoses is a pre-cancerous skin condition, and for that reason it is lumped in with all other non-melanoma skin cancers.

Actinic Keratoses - What does it look like?

AK is most often dry, scaly, rough-textured patches found areas of the body that have received a lot of sun exposure, such as the face, ears, lip, scalp, neck and Chest, forearms, and back of the hands.

Actinic Keratoses share common characteristics, but not all AK looks alike. Some may be easier to feel than see.

  • Some feel scratchy like sandpaper, while others can appear as bumps.

  • AK can be any shape and are skin-colored, pink, reddish-brown, or yellowish-black in color.

  • They range in size from as small as a pinhead to more than an inch across.

You should always ask your doctor to check any suspicious spots, moles, rough patches or irregularities on your skin. He or she may send you to a dermatologist, who is specially trained in the diagnosis and treatment of skin problems.

Diagnosis of Actinic Keratoses:

Most of the time, doctors can diagnose AK just by looking at it.

If the AK is especially large or thick, a biopsy may be needed to make sure that the spot in question is just Actinic Keratoses and has not become another non-melanoma skin cancer. (In case you don't know what a biopsy is, it's normally a simple medical test involving the removal of cells or tissues for examination).

Multiple methods for skin biopsy exist, each with its own limitation and problems. Your doctor will determine which is best for the desired results. It is important to note that the tumor is often not completely removed during a biopsy.

Treatment options for AK's vary

Once AK is identified, a variety of options are available for treating it.

These include:

  • physically removing the AK by freezing it with liquid nitrogen,
  • Burning it with a laser,
  • Scraping it off, or
  • Using chemicals to kill the AK cells

A number of creams are also available for the treatment of Actinic Keratoses, including:

  • Retinoids
  • 5-fluorouracil (5-FU)
  • Imiquimod

Many people have too many of these lesions to freeze so the cream treatment is used to treat larger areas without the pain of the liquid nitrogen.

Both my mom and brother Jeff, used a topical chemotherapy treatment called Efudex® for skin cancer on their faces. Learn about their experiences and how they are doing now.

Pre-skin cancer can easily turn into full blown cancer if left untreated. Remember to check yourself monthly and you will reduce your risk, because skin cancer is almost always curable if caught early.

Actinic keratoses is one of three non-melanoma skin cancers, learn more about Basal and Squamous cell skin cancers here:
Get to know your moles, age spots, skin tags and freckles - and check in with them regularly.

Any information in this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure skin cancer. This site is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace proper medical care. Always seek the advice of a trained health professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before seeking any treatment. Proper medical attention should always be sought for specific ailments. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking medical treatment due to information obtained on

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