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Actinic Keratosis

An Actinic Keratosis (AK) is a common precancerous skin lesion that arises on sun-damaged skin. There is no way to tell by looking at an individual AK whether it will become a skin cancer in the future or not, but it is clear that skin that has actinic keratoses is sun-damaged and therefore is at a higher risk overall of developing skin cancer.

Actinic Keratosis and Reno Dermatology


Actinic Keratosis Risks

The risks for developing actinic keratoses include the overall amount of sun exposure over a lifetime, as well as the intensity of that exposure, as well as a fair skin type. A weakened immune system is another risk factor for the development of AK and skin cancer, whether the immunosuppression is from medications, medical conditions, or simply advanced age. After several years, an individual actinic keratosis may be destroyed by the body’s immune system, may remain relatively unchanged, or it may progress to become a squamous cell skin cancer. Please read this article identifying those at risk for Actinic Keratosis.

Identifying Actinic Keratosis

Actinic Keratoses can vary in their appearance. Many of them simply feel like a hard, scratchy bump with dry skin over the top, and they can be rough. Sometimes they can be red, or they can have a brown pigment. When scratched, they may bleed. Actinic keratoses are usually diagnosed based on their clinical appearance, but a biopsy is sometimes needed to distinguish between an AK and a skin cancer.

Actinic Keratosis Treatment & Therapy

Actinic keratoses can be treated in several ways. They can be treated locally with cryotherapy. There are also topical medications that can be applied daily over many weeks, and these medications can help your immune system recognize and get rid of the actinic keratoses that you can see, and also the beginnings of new actinic keratoses in the sun-damaged skin in the area. These creams are meant to use all over a sun-damaged area for weeks, and when the immune system recognizes the precancerous areas, the skin in the area will become red, crusted, and sometimes itchy or painful. These creams are generally used in patients with numerous actinic keratoses. Blue light photodynamic therapy can also be used to treat AKs. With this type of photodynamic therapy, a solution is applied in the clinic to the entire area of sun-damaged skin around the AKs. The patient sits with the medication on the area for 15-60 minutes and then under a blue light for about 15 minutes. This causes damage to the precancerous cells. The patient has irritated skin for several days afterwards, and the treatment is often repeated three to four times over several months to treat the AKs.

Do you offer Actinic Keratosis treatments in your Reno office?

Yes. Appointment length varies depending on the number of treated areas, but treatments are usually between 15 and 30 minutes.

For more information or to set up a consultation with Dr. Jennifer Janiga for Actinic Keratosis treatment in our Reno / Tahoe dermatology offices, please send us an email or call 775-398-4600.

Jennifer J. Janiga, MD, FAAD

Dr. Janiga enjoys taking care of both adults and children. Her extensive training and years of experience in medical dermatology, lasers, and cosmetic procedures allows her to treat her patients with the comprehensive attention they deserve.

Dr. Janiga listens attentively to what patients have to say, and works with them in planning the right course of action on an individual basis. Honest talk, humility and a fresh perspective paired with years of experience and education all contribute to the effectiveness of her straightforward care.