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Actinic Keratosis

Actinic keratosis, also called solar keratosis, is a precancerous skin condition that develops in sun-exposed skin, especially on the face, hands, forearms, and neck. It occurs most often in pale-skinned, fair-haired, light-eyed people beginning at age 30 or 40.

Actinic keratoses are persistent, noticeable, small red, brown, or skin-colored patches that may become scaly, scabbed, or crusted. The patches may itch, burn, or sting.

If the affected skin is protected from the sun, the patches may grow smaller and disappear. If sun exposure continues, they may eventually change into skin cancers (squamous cell carcinoma). Early treatment of actinic keratoses—by cryotherapy (freezing), electrosurgery (burning), curettage (scraping), photodynamic therapy (a treatment combining light and medicine), or medicines that are put on the skin—can prevent progression to squamous cell carcinoma.

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerAmy McMichael, MD - Dermatology
Last RevisedOctober 2, 2012

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: October 02, 2012
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