Time to check for aktinic keratosis!

September 23, 2009 3:53:00 PM PDT
A lifetime of sun exposure is a setup for skin cancers. Many times, these cancers start out as a scaly patch of skin that hasn't progressed to full blown cancer. They can start as early as your 30s. Now may be a good time to catch and treat them. The end of summer may mean the end of baking in the sun for this year, and it may be just the time to check on how the sun has affected your skin over the years. For Jed Levine, it was time for him recently to have the doctor check his skin for any signs of skin cancer.

"As a kid, I spent a lot of time in the sun," he said. "I had a spot on my lip, and because I'm fair skinned, I wanted to have a full body check."

The more time in the ultraviolet light of the sun, the more your risk for a pre-cancerous skin spot called an aktinic keratosis, AK for short. Jed was also high risk because of his fair complexion. The lip spot was nothing. But there was something on his back.

"He biopsied it and called me in a few days and said I had actinic keratosis," he said.

Many AKs look like scaly, dry skin. Because they may seem to improve on their own, people don't get upset.

"They can look just like scaly skin, or a rash, or allergic reaction like eczema or psoriasis, where actually, they're aktinic keratoses," said Dr. Gary Goldenberg, of Mount Sinai Medical Center.

AKs appear on sun-exposed skin, such as the face and arms. It's good to use a sunscreen on these areas all year long. Make this change of seasons the time each year to see the dermatologist.

On a cloudy day, you might think you don't need a sunscreen. But on cloudy days, the UV light index can be almost as high as on a sunny day. So use a high SPF cream each day. Jed learned the hard way.

"As a result of this diagnosis, I use sunscreen even when I'm not going to spend a lot of time in the sun, which is a change for me," he said.

There are a number of simple treatments that dermatologists use to remove and cure AKs. Which one is used depends on the nature of the AK and on the doctor and patient. If an AK is left untreated, it can grow into a squamous cell cancer, which requires more extensive treatment, generally local surgery.

For more information, visit:

  • mssm.edu/dermatology
  • aad.org
  • isitakorok.com


    WEB PRODUCED BY: Bill King

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