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Skin Cancer Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Treatment of Actinic Keratosis

Actinic keratoses commonly appear in areas of chronic sun exposure, such as the face and dorsa of the hands. Actinic cheilitis is a related condition that usually appears on the lower lips.[1] These conditions represent early epithelial transformation that may eventually evolve into invasive SCC.

Actinic keratosis is a noninvasive lesion. The progression rate is extremely low. In a prospective study, the progression rate to SCC was less than 1 in 1,000 per year, calling into question the cost effectiveness of treating all actinic keratoses to prevent SCC.[2] Moreover, in a population-based longitudinal study, there was an approximately 26% spontaneous regression rate of solar keratoses within 1 year of a screening examination.[3] Therefore, studies designed to test the efficacy of any treatment for progression of actinic keratoses to SCC are impractical (or impossible). Nevertheless, a variety of treatment approaches have been reviewed.[4]

Recommended Related to Skin Problems & Treatments


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Treatment for Actinic Keratosis

Treatment options include the following:

  1. Topical agents:
  2. Cryosurgery.
  3. Curettage.
  4. Dermabrasion.
  5. Shave excision.
  6. Photodynamic therapy.
  7. Carbon dioxide laser.

Current Clinical Trials

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with actinic keratosis. The list of clinical trials can be further narrowed by location, drug, intervention, and other criteria.

General information about clinical trials is also available from the NCI Web site.


  1. Picascia DD, Robinson JK: Actinic cheilitis: a review of the etiology, differential diagnosis, and treatment. J Am Acad Dermatol 17 (2 Pt 1): 255-64, 1987.
  2. Marks R, Rennie G, Selwood TS: Malignant transformation of solar keratoses to squamous cell carcinoma. Lancet 1 (8589): 795-7, 1988.
  3. Marks R, Foley P, Goodman G, et al.: Spontaneous remission of solar keratoses: the case for conservative management. Br J Dermatol 115 (6): 649-55, 1986.
  4. Jorizzo J, Collier A: Actinic keratosis. Waltham, Ma: UpToDate Inc, 2011. Available online. Last accessed March 14, 2011.

WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

Last Updated: February 25, 2014
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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