Actinic Keratosis (Pre-Cancers)


If you’ve noticed a persistent “roughness” on your face or hands that appears to be a small, thickened lesion you could possibly has what’s known as an Actinic Keratosis, AK for short. Ranging in color from skin-toned to a reddish-brown color, AKs can begin the size of a pin head and grow to the size of a quarter if left untreated.

Actinic Keratosis and Skin Cancer

Actinic keratosis, the result of chronic sun exposure are also referred to as precancerous lesions by a majority of dermatologists as they often lead to squamous cell carcinoma when left untreated. Roughly 40-50% of squamous cell carcinomas begin as AKs which is a large reason why it is important to detect and treat these lesions in their early stages.

Where do actinic keratosis normally occur?

As actinic keratosis are precancerous, they occur on the most sun exposed areas of the body such as face, scalp, ears, arms, hands, even legs and trunk. It is not uncommon for AKs to occur in groups as well. A consultation with a board-certified dermatologist or dermatology physician assistant can help diagnosis these lesions as they are often overlooked or dismissed as dry, flakey skin.

What treatment options are available for actinic keratosis?

Many treatment options are available for actinic keratosis, both conventional and advanced. At Dermatology and Laser Center of Charleston we focus on three main treatment options made available for our patients. Optimal treatment takes into account the number of lesions and size of the areas being treated as well as what best fits the patient’s lifestyle.

  • Cryosurgery in which the lesions are frozen with liquid nitrogen and generally take a week to heal. This treatment is ideal for a small number of visible, single lesions.
  • Topical medications. There are a variety of topical medications on the market used in the treatment of actinic keratosis.   Used in treating the invisible damage, the commitment of these topical medications range from applying the drug twice a day for periods of 6-9 weeks to one application for 3 days. All come with the possibility of inflammation, redness and slight discomfort, but are optimally effective in treating the invisible damage which is set to surface over time.
  • Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is a light based treatment used at our office in which a medication is applied to a particular area of skin that causes damaged cells to react to a blue light. It is approved by the FDA and often covered by insurance when used to treat the face and scalp. This treatment generally lasts under 2 hours and can be done in a series of 3 to reach maximum treatment for larger areas such as the full face, scalp, neck, or arms. Patients who have received the PDT treatment are advised to avoid sun exposure and bright indoor or outdoor light for 48 hours after their treatment and a majority of inflammation subsides within a week post-treatment. Treatment results in the clearance of many AK’s from large areas of the skin such as the entire face, entire scalp, arms, hands or legs.


How can a dermatologist help with actinic keratosis?

Catching actinic keratosis early is key in preventing them from growing or developing into skin cancer. A board-certified dermatologist and dermatology physician assistant can help identify these lesions at an earlier stage. If you feel a rough patch on your skin that is persistent, please contact your dermatology office to have it examined. A complete skin examination is always offered and is suggested no less than once each year, more often if you have been diagnosed with AK or skin cancer.

If you think you may have an actinic keratosis and live in or within travelling distance of the Charleston area, contact our office to schedule an appointment with one of our highly skilled skin care providers. Early detection is key when skin cancer is at play.

Contact Us

Office addresses:

2180 Henry Tecklenburg Dr.
Charleston, SC 29414

1364 Ashley River Road
Charleston, SC 29407

208 Brighton Park Blvd
Summerville, SC 29486

Phone: 843-556-8886
Fax: 843-556-8850

E-mail: Contact Form

Find Us

Click to open a larger map

New Treatments for Psoriasis

Follow Us