Sun exposure can cause skin changes known as solar keratosis or actinic keratosis – commonly known as sunspots. Left untreated they have the potential to turn into a skin cancer.
These are of concern as they are felt to be pre cancerous lesions, which means if left untreated they have the potential to turn into a skin cancer – commonly a squamous cell carcinoma.
Ministry of Skin is a RACGP accredited clinic.
The risk of a solar keratosis turning into a skin cancer is not known but the rate it thought to be about 5-20%. It is not possible to tell which will become a cancer and which will not, so all are identified and treatment is advised.
Having solar keratoses also highlights that your skin has had enough sun exposure to cause DNA damage and the resulting development of pre cancerous lesions, which in itself increases your individual risk of getting skin cancers.
How to Identify a Solar Keratosis?
Solar keratosis or Actinic Keratosis are usually flat or slightly raised red, tan or pink areas on the skin with a scaly or crusty surface that feels rough like sandpaper and does not soften . They can gradually increase in size and may disappear and the reappear during their early stages.
They commonly appear on sun exposed areas such as the face, scalp, temples, nose, ears, lips, hands and forearms.
Who is at Risk?
If you have had significant sun exposure you are at risk of getting solar keratosis but they are commoner in those who:
- Have fair skin
- Over 40 years of age
- Spent a lot of time outdoors
- Have used solariums
- Have had an organ transplant
Warning signs of a solar keratosis becoming a cancer
Ensure you get a lesion checked by a Doctor at the Clinic if you notice:
Any change in a solar keratosis, but especially if it is becoming thicker, the top is developing more of a crust or thick horny growth, if it is tender or develops a sore or ulcer that doesn’t seem to heal.
At Ministry of Skin we will help you identify lesions that are of concern and aim to give you up to date evidence based advise of the best treatment options.
If treated early almost all solar keratosis can be removed without turning into a skin cancer. Left untreated 2-5% can turn in to a squamous cell carcinoma.
There are a number of ways Medical Skin Clinic Australia can treat solar keratosis. The options can be discussed with you during your consultation so that you understand the pros and cons of each and which works with your lifestyle.
Treatments may be tailored to not only treat the visible lesions but also the surrounding damaged skin that may currently look normal but has the potential to also form pre cancerous lesions. Unfortunately the sun does not shine just on one spot of skin, so the skin surrounding the lesion of concern is often damaged as well. It is possible to have up to 10 times as many invisible lesions as visible lesions. Treatments where the solar keratosis of concern PLUS the surrounding skin is treated are called Field Treatments.
Treatment options include but are not limited to:
Cryotherapy – This involves using liquid nitrogen to freeze the abnormal cells in the visible lesion.
Prescription creams – There are a number of prescription creams available that can be applied daily to the lesions over a period of three days to three weeks. These creams work in different ways to kill the damaged cells within the lesions. They can cause the area treated to flare up and cause mild to severe redness, blistering and swelling. A benefit is that they can also treat lesions that are not visible and some early skin cancers ie field treatment.
PDT – A cream is applied to the lesions and sometimes the surrounding skin as a field treatment. The cream is then activated by sitting under a light that kills the damaged cells.
Minor Surgery – Generally not a usual measure for removing solar keratosis, but it may be recommended if a lesion looks to be showing early signs of a squamous cell cancer or is not responding to therapy as expected.
How to Prevent Solar Keratosis
Prevention of new lesions and worsening of lesions present is to reduce sun exposure.