Actinic Keratosis (AK)

Actinic keratosis (AK), also known as solar keratosis, is a skin condition caused by exposure to ultraviolet radiation (i.e. sunlight). Some experts believe that AK is the earliest form of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), a non-melanoma skin cancer, making it even more important to seek treatment as soon as possible. The major cause  Chronic exposure to ultraviolet radiation (ie. sunlight) causes AK; they appear more frequently on sun-exposed parts of the body: the face, neck, bald scalp, hands, shoulders, arms and back. The rim of the ear and the lower lip are especially vulnerable. Who gets itToday, 60% of all Canadians over age of 40 have at least one AK lesion – as the population ages, the incidence of AK will increase.

  • Generally, AKs occur more frequently among older people (over the age of 45) with fair skin and/or red hair and have had lots of exposure to the sun earlier in life (people with freckles and those who sunburn easily get AK more often as well).
  • Men tend to be diagnosed more frequently due to the fact that more men than women have outdoor occupations. Nevertheless, women get AKs almost as often as men, in particular as they grow older.
  • In recent years, the diagnosis has increased worldwide – including among people younger than 45 years of age.

What to look for The most common appearance of AK is a scaly plaque on a red base. They are typically 1 – 3 mm in diameter, but can be as large as several centimeters:

  • rough, scaly, slightly raised growths that ranges in color from brown to red and may be up to one inch in diameter. Be most careful of scaly growths that become thicker, painful or begin to bleed or crust. AKs appear most often in older people.
  • mostly appear on the scalp for people who have their scalp exposed to the sun, face, side of the neck, legs, and the back of the arms.
  • Actinic cheilitis is a type of AK occurring on the lips. It causes them to become dry, cracked, scaly and pale or white. It mainly affects the lower lip, which typically receives more sun exposure than the upper lip.
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