Actinic keratosis

What it is:

Actinic keratosis is a pre-cancerous lesion caused by too much UV light exposure. The lesions commonly progress to skin cancer. Actinic keratosis affects more than 58 million Americans.  

The lesions begin as dry, scaly patches of skin that are easier felt than seen and have a sandpaper-like texture. The lesions can get larger and may become red. Most lesions are only 3-10 mm, but can become as large as several centimeters. 

Actinic keratosis can remain unchanged, may spontaneously resolve, or progress to invasive squamous cell carcinoma. It is impossible to predict the risk of progression, and the risk of keratosis to squamous cell carcinoma is small, (at most 10 percent). 


Actinic keratoses are treated with cryosurgery, topical medications, or a special light treatment. The appropriate treatment is chosen based on the number of lesions present and the patient’s medical history. Patients should avoid sun exposure and be sure to wear adequate sunscreen and protective clothing.