What are actinic keratoses?
You may have seen one of our posters (click on the images on the right to see them in full) on the walls of your local GP surgery, or even in a magazine or newspaper and wondered what actionic keratosis is.
Actinic keratoses are areas of sun-damaged skin found mostly on parts of the body exposed to the sun, such as the hands, forearms, face and ears and the scalp. There’s a small risk that some lesions may become cancerous. People with sun-damaged skin are likely to have upwards of 50 lesions on their skin, so it’s something worth keeping an eye on.
Should I be worried?
The majority of lesions are harmless but there is a very small risk (about 10 to 15%) of some actinic keratoses progressing to a skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).
What causes actinic keratoses?The lesions are caused by excessive sun exposure over many years (from sunbathing, outdoor work or recreational activities), so are more common in older people, or fair-skinned individuals.
What are the symptoms of actinic keratoses?
The affected skin is generally rough, raised and dry, though if a lesion starts to grow into a lump, becomes itchy, tender or starts to bleed, it’s worth getting it checked out by your GP.
What does it look like?
Actinic keratoses can vary in their appearance from person to person. They tend to feel rough, like sandpaper and can grow up to a centimetre or two in diameter. Some are skin coloured, others are pink, red or brown. Some can become raised, hard and warty, and may even develop a small horny outgrowth. The surrounding skin often looks sun-damaged - blotchy, freckled and wrinkled.
Can actinic keratoses be cured and how is it treated?
Yes it can, although this won’t stop others developing in the future. There are a range of ways to treat actinic keratoses, and your GP will advise on which is the best for you. Cryotherapy, surgical removal, photodynamic therapy (a form of light therapy) and creams are amongst the available options.
What can I do?
Do what you can to prevent any further sun damage. Generally it is advisable to treat them, even though a small proportion may go away of their own accord, as there is a small risk that some might transform into a skin cancer.
What else can I do to support the BSF?
Awareness campaigns like this are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we do as a charity. There's a lot you can get involved with click here to find out more!