Skin CancerCancer

What is Actinic Keratosis (AK)?

What is Actinic Keratosis (AK)?

Actinic Keratosis (AK), also known as solar keratosis, is a common precancerous skin condition characterized by rough, scaly patches or lesions on sun-exposed areas of the skin. These patches often appear on the face, ears, scalp, neck, backs of hands, or forearms. AK develops due to prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun or indoor tanning beds. Over time, untreated AK lesions may progress to squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer. Therefore, early detection and treatment are crucial to prevent further complications.

Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of Actinic Keratosis (AK) may include:

  • Rough, scaly patches or lesions on the skin, ranging in colour from pink to reddish-brown.
  • Itching or burning sensation in the affected areas.
  • Inflammation or redness around the patches.
  • Occasionally, AK lesions may bleed or develop a crust.

It’s essential to be aware of these symptoms and seek medical attention if you notice any changes in your skin.

Risk Factors

Several factors may increase the risk of developing Actinic Keratosis (AK), including:

  • Prolonged exposure to sunlight, especially without adequate protection.
  • Fair skin, light hair, and light-coloured eyes are more susceptible to UV damage.
  • History of frequent sunburns or indoor tanning bed use.
  • Older age, as AK is more common in adults over 40.

To reduce your risk of AK, it’s important to minimize sun exposure, wear protective clothing and sunscreen, and avoid indoor tanning.


Actinic Keratosis (AK) is typically diagnosed through visual examination by a dermatologist. In some cases, a skin biopsy may be performed to confirm the diagnosis and rule out the presence of skin cancer. During a skin biopsy, a small sample of tissue from the affected area is removed and examined under a microscope. Early diagnosis is key to preventing AK from progressing to skin cancer.

Treatment Options

Treatment for Actinic Keratosis (AK) aims to remove or destroy the abnormal skin cells and reduce the risk of progression to skin cancer. Common treatment options include:

  • Topical medications: Prescription creams, gels, or solutions containing ingredients such as fluorouracil, imiquimod, or diclofenac.
  • Cryotherapy: Freezing the AK lesions with liquid nitrogen to destroy abnormal cells.
  • Photodynamic therapy (PDT): Using a combination of a photosensitizing agent and light to target and destroy AK cells.
  • Laser therapy: Directing a focused beam of light to remove or destroy AK lesions.

Your dermatologist will recommend the most appropriate treatment based on the severity and location of your AK lesions.


To prevent Actinic Keratosis (AK) and reduce the risk of skin cancer, consider the following preventive measures:

  • Limit sun exposure, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays are strongest.
  • Wear protective clothing, including wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses, and long sleeves.
  • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30, and reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating.
  • Avoid indoor tanning beds, which emit harmful UV radiation.
  • Perform regular skin self-examinations and schedule annual skin checks with a dermatologist for early detection of skin abnormalities.


If left untreated, Actinic Keratosis (AK) can lead to complications, including:

  • Progression to squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer.
  • Discomfort or pain from advanced AK lesions, especially if they become inflamed or irritated.
  • Emotional distress or anxiety related to concerns about skin cancer.

It’s essential to address AK early and follow your dermatologist’s recommendations for monitoring and treatment to minimize the risk of complications.

Living with AK

If you have been diagnosed with Actinic Keratosis (AK), here are some tips for living with the condition:

  • Follow your dermatologist’s treatment plan, including any prescribed medications or procedures.
  • Protect your skin from further sun damage by wearing sunscreen and protective clothing, and seeking shade when outdoors.
  • Monitor your skin for changes and report any new or worsening symptoms to your healthcare provider promptly.
  • Attend regular follow-up appointments with your dermatologist for skin checks and monitoring of AK lesions.
  • Take steps to reduce your overall risk of skin cancer by adopting sun-safe behaviours and lifestyle habits.