top of page

Actinic Keratosis

What is Actinic Keratosis?

Many years of exposure to the sun can cause an actinic keratosis (AK) to appear. People with light skin, hair and eyes or weak immune systems are at the most risk of developing these growths. AKs are considered precancerous, meaning that they are not malignant. However, a small number may turn into squamous cell carcinoma, a serious type of skin cancer.Primarily found on areas of the body that receive the most sunlight, such as the face, neck and forearms, AKs form on the outer layer of skin and look like rough or scaly patches. They can be flat, slightly raised, or hard like a wart and range in color from pink to brown. Sometimes they cannot be seen at all, only felt as rough patches. Itching or burning sensations can also be symptoms of actinic keratoses. AKs may disappear and reappear. Even if a suspicious spot on your skin disappears, it is still important to have it checked by a dermatologist and, if necessary, treated before it turns into skin cancer.Since exposure to sun is a factor in so many cases of Actinic Keratosis, one way to protect yourself is to limit your time in the sun, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. when the sun’s rays reach their peak. Always wear sunscreen with an SPF (Sun Protection Factor) of at least 30 with protection against both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays and reapply it every couple of hours. Wear protective clothing and sunglasses and stay in the shade when possible. Avoid tanning beds and be careful around anything that can reflect the sun’s rays, such as water, sand and snow.

What You Need to Know

  • AKs are benign, but if left untreated they can turn into squamous cell carcinoma

  • Avoid sun and wear sunscreen to reduce your chances of getting AKs

  • Checking your own skin once a month for abnormalities and changes in AKs can lead to early detection of any problems

  • AKs can usually be diagnosed visually, though a biopsy may be necessary for confirmation

actinic keratosis

Check Yourself

You can also help protect yourself by examining your own skin once a month. It is often difficult to diagnose skin cancer just by appearance. This is why it’s so important for you to check your own skin and notify your doctor of anything you find. Examine yourself from head to toe, using a mirror when necessary. Look for any changes to existing moles and freckles, sores that take more than 3 weeks to heal, spots that hurt or itch continuously, growths that have increased in size or are larger than a pencil eraser, irregular outlines or changes in color or texture. If you note any changes in your skin, see your dermatologist. Know Your Spots >>

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your doctor can usually diagnose an actinic keratosis visually and confirm the diagnosis with a biopsy if necessary. This is most commonly done under local anesthesia and involves removing the abnormality and a thin layer of the surrounding skin for examination under a microscope. After examining the sample, a Cockerell Dermatopathology dermatopathologist will provide your doctor with a definitive diagnosis.

Common treatments for Actinic Keratosis include chemical peels, cryosurgery (freezing the growth with liquid nitrogen), chemotherapy creams or ointments, laser therapy under local anesthesia and photodynamic therapy (application or injection of a solution to make the area sensitive to light, followed by treatment by laser).

What is Dermatopathology?

The combination of pathology (using a microscope to identify diseases) and dermatology (diagnosing and treating diseases of the skin, nails and hair) is called dermatopathology. Dermatopathologists are highly trained physicians who examine tissue specimens under a microscope, use the medical information shared by your doctor and consult with him or her as necessary. This personal service and collaboration between your doctor and our dermatopathologists help ensure the most precise, conclusive diagnosis.

About Cockerell Dermatopathology

Cockerell Dermatopathology, located in the heart of Dallas’ medical district, was founded by Dr. Clay J. Cockerell, former president of the American Academy of Dermatology and internationally recognized dermatologist and dermatopathologist.  Cockerell Dermatopathology offers diagnostic excellence and unparalleled service in the evaluation of dermatologic disorders ranging from the routine to the most difficult. To best serve referring clinicians and their patients, Cockerell Dermatopathology continues to invest in the future by implementing advanced technologies within the laboratory. These new technologies produce higher quality slides to diagnose, improves turnaround time on routine cases and allows for quicker deployment of EMR interfaces.  From an academic standpoint, Cockerell Dermatopathology hosts numerous Internet-based continuing education events and has a 14-headed microscope for in-person training sessions. Cockerell Dermatopathology serves more than 800 clinicians from across Texas, the United States and abroad. With an accessible team of board-certified dermatopathologists and a highly trained support staff, Cockerell Dermatopathology’s vision is to treat every specimen as if it came from one of our own family members.

bottom of page