Actinic Keratosis (AK) Q&A

Actinic Keratosis (AK) skin cancer

By Elizabeth Lebrun Nestor, MD

What is an actinic keratosis (AK)?

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. An actinic keratosis, or solar keratosis, is a pre-cancerous lesion found on the skin due to sun exposure.

How do I know if I have an actinic keratosis?

Actinic keratoses are most common in light-skinned individuals and patients with immunosuppression. They often appear as pink rough patches in sun-exposed areas, such as the scalp, face, ears and hands. Many patients may complain that they feel a sensitive or pricking sensation when they are touched.

How can I treat actinic keratosis?

Many actinic keratoses are treated with destructive methods in the office, such as liquid nitrogen. However, there are also newer modalities to treat these lesions at the cellular level, often attacking them before they are clinically obvious. One option is topical chemotherapy creams, such as Picato, 5-fluorouracil or Imiquimod. There is also an in-office option for treatment of actinic keratoses called photodynamic therapy, or “blue light therapy.”

Are there any oral agents available to prevent actinic keratosis?

A recent study found that Nicotinamide, a form of vitamin B3, taken at a dose of 500mg twice daily for a year, reduced patient’s skin cancer development. Another oral agent called Heliocare, derived from a fern extract, is a safe and effective. It uses your body’s own anti-oxidants protect the skin from sunburn and ultraviolet damage.