Houston Dermatologist FAQ: What is Actinic Keratosis?

shutterstock_158784008-300x200 Houston Dermatologist FAQ: What is Actinic Keratosis? Houston DermatologistAn actinic keratosis (AK), or solar keratosis, is a crusty, scaly growth which develops due to the damage caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure. AKs rarely occur as only one. Therefore, the plural term, i.e., “keratoses,” is often used to describe this dermatology condition. 

Texas Surgical Dermatology, led by board certified dermatologist Dr. Tri H. Nguyen, provides advanced skin care procedures to patients in Houston, Katy, Spring, The Woodlands, Texas, and surrounding locations.



Actinic Keratosis is thought to be pre-cancer as if it is left untreated; it could potentially develop into skin cancer. It typically progresses to the second most common type of skin cancer, called squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).  

More than 419,000 cases of skin cancer, including nearly 168,000 SCCs, in the US each year are linked to indoor tanning. 

Actinic Keratoses are the most common form of precancerous skin lesion. They develop on skin that has experienced frequent exposure to the sun or artificial UV light sources, such as tanning beds. In exceptional cases, frequent x-ray exposure can also cause the development of AKs. 

AKs usually manifest on sun-exposed areas of the body such as the face, bald scalp, ears, neck, shoulders, back of the hands, and forearms. In general, AKs are elevated, rough-textured, and appear similar to warts. 

AKs are mostly red, but they can also appear as a combination of pink, white, dark or light tan, or skin-colored. They may also develop in a combination of these colors.

In the beginning, Actinic Keratoses are typically so small that they can only be felt rather than seen. The sensation of running a finger over them is similar to touching sandpaper. Compared to lesions apparent on the skin’s surface, patients may have many times more invisible (subclinical) lesions.

AKs usually develop slowly and accomplish a size that ranges from an eighth to a quarter of an inch. They may disappear initially only to reappear at a later time. They can also be itchy or create a tender or pricking sensation. In addition, they may become inflamed or surrounded by redness as well as bleed in rare cases. 


Why You Should be Concerned

Many types of Actinic Keratoses are harmless, but they indicate that the patient has undergone sun damage and is prone to the development of any type of skin cancer, usually the second most common type of the disease, SCC.

In case an individual has a single AK, they may develop more later on. Older and untreated AKs increase the chances that one or more may develop into an SCC. 

Some scientists believe that Actinic Keratosis is the earliest type of SCC. In rare instances, AKs may develop into the most common form of skin cancer, called basal cell carcinoma.

Untreated SCC may become invasive or even life-threatening. Actinic cheilitis is another variant of AK. This is an aggressive type of pre-cancer on the lower lips that has a high chance of developing into invasive SCC. 

Around ten percent of AKs develop into cancers. Most SCC initiate as AKs. Fortunately, today, there are various effective treatments for Actinic Keratoses available to patients.

Board certified dermatologist Dr. Tri H. Nguyen receives patients from Houston, Katy, Spring, The Woodlands, Texas, and nearby areas for safe and proven skin care treatments. 


For more information on procedures and treatments offered at Texas Surgical Dermatology PA please call 832.663.6566 or click here to contact our dermatologists. Helping patients in Houston, The Woodlands, Springs, Katy and other surrounding areas of Texas.

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Spring, TX 77379

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