How to Recognize Precancerous Lesions

What is an Actinic Keratosis (AK)?

AKs are scaly bumps caused by years of exposure to UV radiation (the sun's rays). Over time, cumulative exposure to UV radiation from the sun causes the cells under the skin to malfunction and form AKs. These lesions are precancerous. If left untreated, AKs can develop into squamous cell carcinoma and have metastatic potential. Squamous cell carcinoma kills as many as 2,500 Americans each year. 

AK lesions can appear in many different ways. They are usually small, noticeable red scaly bumps that appear on the face, neck, scalp, and hands. They can be found, however, on any areas of skin that have chronic sun exposure. AKs may have a rough texture, like sandpaper. Occasionally, the lesions can itch, burn, or sting. You can have multiple lesions that sometimes will coalesce into larger patches. 

AKs occur in men and women. Most often they start appearing in patients over 40 years old, but patients can start seeing them in their 20s and 30s. 

Limiting sun exposure is the most preventable risk factor for all precancerous lesions and skin cancers. You can have fun in the sun and decrease your risk of skin cancer by following some simple rules when outside: 

-Seek the shade from 10a-4p, when the sun is the strongest

-Cover up with protective clothing; if possible, wear dark, loose clothing such as long-sleeve shirts, pants, and a wide-brimmed hat

-Always apply a broad spectrum (UVA and UVB) sunscreen with an SPF 30 or high

-Avoid tanning and never use tanning beds or other tanning devices