Dermatology/Actinic Keratoses

Actinic keratoses are rough patches that develop on the skin due to sun damage

The condition occurs as a result of skin cells developing abnormally and the patches left on the skin can be very unappealing as they are very dry and rough. Additionally, areas of actinic keratoses can cause irritation and potentially lead to a form of skin cancer so it is important to have these removed.

Actinic keratoses usually appear and form around various parts of the face, forearms, scalp and hands however they can appear on any part of the body. Usually, due to the nature of the condition, the patches will appear on those areas most exposed to the sunlight. The patches may present themselves as brown or pink or they may remain the same colour of your skin. Actinic keratoses is usually very dry and rough, possibly representing the texture of sandpaper, and differing from a small patch of dry and dehydrated skin.

Most of the time, actinic keratoses is not dangerous, and patches are removed due to aesthetic concern. However, actinic keratoses has a very strong link to squamous cell carcinoma which is a form of skin cancer. If left untreated, there is a chance actinic keratoses can become squamous cell carcinomas which have the potential to cause a great deal of harm. Therefore, despite some actinic keratoses not turning into skin cancer, there is some chance that it will and so it may be important to have these patches removed before they develop into something more dangerous.

Woman looking at the mirror

There are a few different treatments available for actinic keratoses, these are cryotherapy and photodynamic therapy (PDT). The dry areas may also be cut off using a small procedure. During your initial consultation with one of our expert dermatologists they will be able to assess your individual case and provide the best advice on which treatment would be the best and most effective for you.

If you have cryotherapy to remove actinic keratoses, liquid nitrogen will be applied to the area in order to quickly freeze the site which works to kill the cells involved in the patch. As a result of this, the patch should begin to be removed from the skin. It may be necessary to have multiple treatments in order to ensure all of the actinic keratoses has been removed.

Photodynamic therapy (PDT) to remove actinic keratoses works by killing the cells that make up the patch using intense light and light sensitising cream. When the light is shone directly on the patch, the power of the light destroys the cells and removes this from the skin.

Despite some actinic keratoses uncommonly turning into pre-cancer or skin cancer, not all cases of actinic keratoses result in skin cancer. It is not possible to tell which ones will eventually turn into skin cancer and therefore we would recommend to have any actinic keratoses removed. Most people would elect to have the actinic keratoses removed as they are unsightly or rough.

For the majority of actinic keratoses cases they will not turn into squamous cell carcinoma however with prolonged and continuous exposure to the sun these patches may worsen and possible cause some discomfort and irritation. Additionally, there is a chance these patches will become cancerous and this can be very dangerous to your health. It is important to treat actinic keratoses to avoid any dangerous side effects of the condition.

Actinic keratoses only becomes cancerous in a small proportion of cases. However, it is not possible to tell which cases of actinic keratoses will develop into squamous cell carcinoma. Therefore it is important to have actinic keratoses treated in order to avoid the development of skin cancer.

Procedure Overview

  • Skin condition which leads to rough and dry patches on the skin
  • Occurs due to prolonged exposure to the sun
  • Removed for both functional and aesthetic reasons
  • Potential to become cancerous and develop into squamous cell carcinoma
  • The main treatments used are cryotherapy and PDT
  • You will have an initial consultation with an expert specialist in this area
Actinic Keratosis two days after a freezing removal treatment

No, actinic keratoses can turn into squamous cell carcinoma not melanoma. Squamous cell carcinoma is not as dangerous as melanoma if it is diagnosed and treated early however it is still a form of skin cancer.

There are a few methods which are effective to remove actinic keratoses. These are cryotherapy and photodynamic therapy (PDT). Both methods work to kill the cells which make up the actinic keratoses and remove the dry patches from the skin (and kill the associated cells) in order to remove any discomfort and irritation, and avoid the development of skin cancer.

The time it takes to have an actinic keratoses procedure depends on the chosen treatment: Cryotherapy procedure only takes a few seconds to complete whereas PDT can take up to 45 mins.

Following treatment, it is not expected that the actinic keratoses will return.

The cost to treat actinic keratoses is dependent on the preferred treatment (whether cryotherapy or PDT option) and the size of the skin area to be treated.

"Dr Bhargava is very clear in his explanations and always has a way of putting you at your ease."

"Dr De Mozzi was so professional and I was impressed with her knowledge and skills. Not only she took the time to listen, but she also explained clearly what was going on with my skin and what my treatment options were. I felt at ease and reassured throughout the process, and I am really happy with my treatment. Thank you Dr De Mozzi!"


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