Actinic Keratosis, also known as Solar Keratosis is caused by prolonged exposure to the harmful ultraviolet radiation of the sun. It is characterized by dry or patchy areas, which may or may not be discolored. These areas can further harden into warts or growths with 'horn- like' structure.
This kind of Keratosis is directly caused by sun exposure and thus, most often seen in the areas which are exposed to the sun more. This includes the face, forearms, back of hands, ears and even bald spots in the scalp. In other instances it might occur on the chest or even the back.
It is also a condition which affects fair skinned people, its occurrence in people of darker complexion is very rare. Fair skinned people do not tan easily and are prone to sunburn. Lesions or hardened patches of skin start appearing on the sun damaged skin and can be localized or increase in number and extent.
Actinic Keratosis is also seen more in the countries nearer to the equator with sunny weather. People who have outdoor jobs are vulnerable, as are sports enthusiasts. It is also exhibited in men more than women, a fact which can be attributed to outdoor professions for men.
Age is also a variable which features in increased occurrence of this skin condition. Cumulative ultraviolet damage over the years increases the chances of Actinic Keratosis a lot. It is thus seen more in patients who have reached their middle ages or more. This however, does not cut risk factors for younger people, as sun damage can be harmful for the young as for the old.
Actinic Keratosis is not a life-threatening disease in itself but it also is considered as pre-cancerous. This is to say that the condition can cause complications that present themselves as skin cancer or cancer or Squamous cell carcinoma. Medical advice as soon as the first signs of the disease present themselves can be the preventive measure.
Actinic Keratosis is curable – through medication as well as surgical procedures. The best route of treatment is chosen taking into account the extent of lesions as well as various other variables like age, history of skin cancer( if any) and allergy to certain medication. Sometimes a mix of both medication and surgery is advised as the course of treatment. Disfiguring of skin as a result of treatment may worry some patients. They can opt for cosmetic reconstruction but this is a treatment which should always be given after all the symptoms of the disease cease to present.
Medication is a chosen method of therapy when the extent of the disease is seen over a large or localized are with multiple patches or lesions. From a number of options available, Imiquimod, 5-Flourouracil and Solaraze gel maybe prescribed for topical use. Though the effectiveness of these medications is established, they are not often devoid of painful side effects. They act upon the skin which becomes inflamed and flaky. These ‘flakes’ fall off over time, leaving skin quite unblemished. But the inflammatory stage can be very painful. Also, this mode of therapy is advised for a time period between1 week to 4 months. It can therefore be time consuming.
Surgery is often advised for single warts or patches which have hardened and therefore take time for application of local medication to work. Surgical procedures include electrical cauterization, freezing or cryotherapy or conventional surgical removal of affected area. Lasers and other light sources have also been used to remove Keratosis in recent times.
After treatment, the patients need to be careful about recurrence of the condition or changes in existing areas of Keratosis. Regular screening is thus necessary as a precautionary measure. Medical practitioners also routinely advise biopsy of the affected area to rule out cancer. Precautions against sun damages also imperative and the doctor’s advice on this should be stringently followed.
There are simple but effective measures to avoid sun damage leading to Actinic Keratosis.
These measures can ensure protection against sun damage and can prevent Actinic Keratosis. Even if the condition has been cured, it becomes even more important that these steps are followed in order to avoid recurrence. It is best to never take chances with a deadly disease as cancer.