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Actinic Keratosis

What are Actinic Keratoses?

Actinic keratoses (AKs) are a common precancerous skin condition from sun damage.

They often appear as dry, scaly, or crusted patches of skin.  Actinic keratoses may be red, pink, white, or tan colored.  Because of their rough “sandpapery” texture, they are sometimes easier to feel than to see.  Many times, AKs have no symptoms at all, but occasionally they will feel sensitive or painful.

What Causes Actinic Keratoses?

Actinic keratoses develop on skin damaged by chronic exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun and/or indoor tanning. Having red or blond hair or light-colored eyes and a history of unprotected sun exposure with sunburns increases your risk.  Because of the relationship to UV exposure, the lesions most frequently arise on the sun-exposed areas of the head, neck, shoulders, forearms and hands.  There are other factors that can increase your risk for actinic keratoses.  For example, having a weakened immune system due to certain medical conditions, such as leukemia, or taking certain drugs such as chemotherapy or organ transplant medications increase the risk for AKs.

If you have had an actinic keratosis, it is evidence of sustained sun damage to your skin.  This will raise your risk for developing more AKs, and may translate into an elevated risk of developing skin cancer.  The majority of squamous cell carcinomas, a type of skin cancer, start out as actinic keratoses. Unfortunately, it is impossible to tell which AKs will develop into skin cancer, thus they are removed as a precaution.

How do You Treat Actinic Keratoses?

There are several treatment options for actinic keratoses.  The most common is cryosurgery. The physician applies liquid nitrogen to freeze the precancerous tissue which eventually falls off, allowing healthy tissue to emerge. Topical creams or gels can be prescribed for use in patients with numerous or widespread AKs.  These are applied to affected areas to treat both the visible and invisible lesions with minimal risk of scarring.

When properly and promptly diagnosed, actinic keratoses can be successfully removed. Treatment will depend on how many AKs you have, where they are located, your age and overall health.  The board certified dermatologists at Iowa Dermatology Consultants are able to identify and treat your AKs along with the other signs of sun damage.

Additional Actinic Keratosis Resources

Links to Additional Information:

American Academy of Dermatology Skin Cancer Videos:

Why Iowa Dermatology Consultants?

Iowa Dermatology Consultants believes in a patient focused approach to care.  We work with patients forming an active partnership in treatment to help repair the physical and emotional damage of skin disease.  Our Ankeny and Ames locations allow us to conveniently treat patients across the Des Moines metro area and all of Central Iowa including Ames, Carroll, Fort Dodge, Iowa Falls, Marshalltown, Huxley, Slater, and Indianola.  

At Iowa Dermatology Consultants, all of our physicians are board-certified dermatologists. Your care provided by Dr. Snider, Dr. Smith, or Dr. Myers is founded in knowledge and experience which exceeds that of a general practitioner.  Together they have almost 50 years of combined experience in diagnosing and treating a vast array of skin conditions.  This includes over 16,000 hours of patient care training to ensure that a board-certified dermatologist can expertly diagnosis and treat over 3000 dermatologic conditions.

Whether you’re coming to us for help with skin cancer or diseases like acne, psoriasis, and eczema; or to reverse the signs of aging with Botox, chemical peels or other cosmetic procedures, at Iowa Dermatology Consultants you will be getting the best dermatologic care in Central Iowa.