Actinic Keratosis (plural Actinic Keratoses) is a precancerous patch that appears on the surface of the skin. However, there are usually multiple patches that often appear on the face, ears, and scalp. As with most skin cancers, these arise due to high amounts of sun exposure over a long period of time.
Although they are not fully developed as a cancer, Actinic Keratoses (AK’s) are the most common type of precancer and should be treated as soon as possible! They could potentially develop into Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) within a time frame as short as two years.
Identifying Actinic Keratoses
Actinic Keratoses have specific characteristics.
- Size: These patches don’t have a set size. However, one patch won’t cover a very large area. Often, the patches are between a pinhead size or slightly wider than a quarter.
- Color: The spots may be the same shade as or slightly lighter than the surrounding skin. However, the color could also appear in shades of red or brown.
- Location: Actinic Keratoses are most often found around the head. The face, ears, or top of the head may have these scaly spots.
Whether you think these precancerous patches are showing up on your skin or not, you should schedule frequent examinations to make sure you’re not at risk for developing SCC or another type of cancer.
Who can be affected?
Whether it be from the sun or tanning beds, anyone who has been exposed to UV rays for several years may develop this precancer. A lifetime of UV exposure means worse results when it comes to cancer.
Because it takes several years over your lifespan for keratoses to develop, they often don’t show on the skin until age 40 or later. The chance of developing AK’s increases if:
- You have a history of excessive sun exposure
- You have lighter skin
- Your immune system is weak
- You easily burn or freckle after being in the sun
- Your hair is blonde or red (especially with hazel or green eyes)