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Skin cancer facts and screenings

Actinic keratosis

Squamous cell carcinoma on forearm

Actinic keratosis, or AK, is precancerous skin cancer (Source: LiveMedInfo.com)

Actinic keratosis, or AK, is a rough, dry, scaly patch or growth on the skin that is considered a precancerous stage of skin cancer. Skin may feel gritty, soft or different from the surrounding skin. AKs are often found on the face, ears and scalp. People with AKs commonly complain of itching, soreness, bleeding and general discomfort.

An AK forms on skin that has been damaged by overexposure to UV rays from the sun or tanning beds. Most remain benign, but if left untreated, an AK may develop into squamous cell carcinoma. If skin cancer develops and is caught at the early stage, it can often be cured.

It is estimated that up to 58 million individuals in the U.S. have AKs. Slightly more men than women have AKs1. Check the following list to see if you might be at higher risk for AKs:

  • Fair skin 
  • Naturally blond or red hair
  • Naturally blue, green, gray or hazel eye color
  • Your skin burns easily or gets freckles in the sun; multiple severe sunburns early in life
  • 40+ years of age
  • Weakened immune system from organ transplant, HIV/AIDS, etc.
  • Medical condition that makes your skin very sensitive to UV rays, such as albinism or pigment diseases
  • Occupation or hobby that exposes you to sun long-term (e.g., roofing, paving, construction, landscaping, gardening, running, golf)
  • Living in geographical areas where sunlight is more intense, e.g., Southern California or Florida

To determine if you have actinic keratosis, a dermatologist will biopsy the skin. Common treatment procedures performed in a doctor’s office include freezing the AKs, photodynamic therapy, laser resurfacing and more. Medication may also be prescribed to use at home. Tips for managing AKs >>

1: SpotSignsofAK.com

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