What is actinic keratosis?

Actinic keratosis (AK) is a skin disorder that causes rough, scaly patches of skin. Another name for AK is solar keratosis. AK is a type of precancer, which means that if you don’t treat the condition, it could turn into cancer. Without treatment, AK can lead to a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma.

How common is actinic keratosis?

About 58 million Americans have one or more spots of actinic keratosis. AK is the most common type of skin precancer.

Who might get actinic keratosis?

People who don’t protect their skin from sun exposure are more likely to get actinic keratosis. Your risk is also higher if you have:

  • Blond or red hair.
  • Blue or green eyes.
  • Fair or light complexion.
  • History of multiple or severe sunburns.
  • Weakened immune system because of illness or immunotherapy treatment for cancer.

What causes actinic keratosis?

The most common cause of actinic keratosis is too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. UV light comes from the sun or indoor tanning equipment, such as tanning beds. UV light can damage your outer layer of skin cells, called keratinocytes.

What are the symptoms of actinic keratosis?

Usually, the first signs of actinic keratosis are rough, raised bumps on your skin. They can vary in color but often have a yellow or brown crust on top. These bumps may be:

  • Gray.
  • Pink.
  • Red.
  • The same color as your skin.

Symptoms may also include:

  • Bleeding.
  • Burning, stinging or itching.
  • Dry, scaly lips.
  • Hornlike skin growths that stick out (like an animal’s horn).
  • Loss of color in the lips.
  • Pain or tenderness.

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