Pre-cancerous skin lesions are called actinic keratoses. People who are fair-skinned and have spent extensive time in the sun are susceptible to these lesions. They typically occur on sun-exposed areas of the skin including the head, ears, scalp, forearms, hands, and lips. Risk factors are genetics and skin type. These lesions are very slow to develop and are therefore more commonly found in older individuals.
Actinic keratoses may have many different appearances. Typically, they appear as reddish-brown, dry, scaly, or crusty patches on the skin. They also may arise as hard, yellow, crusty bumps or scaly, rough areas. Some actinic keratoses may itch or burn or feel painful when rubbed. Others may disappear for weeks or months – only to reappear again. Sometimes, a fast-growing, thickened area known as a "cutaneous horn" may appear on the skin with an actinic keratosis under it.
Actinic keratoses are treated in order to prevent progression to a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. A significant percentage of squamous cell carcinomas begin as actinic keratoses. There are various methods for treating actinic keratoses including surgery, cryosurgery with liquid nitrogen (freezing), electrodessication, topical medications, photodynamic therapy (Blu- U® Light), chemical peels, among others. Sun safety measures are valuable in preventing these skin cancer precursors.
Photo used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology