An Actinic Keratosis is a common pre-cancerous growth typically found in people over the age of 40. These growths develop in areas frequently exposed to the sun such as the face, scalp, and the tops of hands.

AKs most commonly form in people who are fair complected and have had excessive UV radiation exposure. AKs are one of the most frequent reasons for seeing a dermatologist.

Anyone who has many AKs should be under a dermatologist’s care. If left untreated, AKs have the potential to turn into a type of skin cancer called Squamous Cell Carcinoma.

By seeing a dermatologist for checkups, patients can treat the AKs before they become skin cancer. If skin cancer does develop, it can be caught early when treatments might be able to cure the cancer.

Symptoms of Actinic Keratoses

Most people who get AKs do not have any symptoms. They may only notice texture changes to their skin. A few symptoms to watch for are:

  • Red to brown rough patch on skin that cannot be seen.
  • Rough or hard bump or growth that feels painful when rubbed.
  • Itching or burning.
  • Lips feel constantly dry.

If you see any of these signs on your own skin, you should see a dermatologist. People who have AKs also have a higher risk of getting other types of skin cancer. When found early, most skin cancers can be treated successfully.

How Do Dermatologists Diagnose Actinic Keratoses?

Dermatologists diagnose an actinic keratosis (AK) by closely examining the skin. If your Dermatologist finds a growth that is thick or looks like skin cancer during the exam, your doctor will likely perform a skin biopsy. Your Dermatologist can safely perform a skin biopsy during an office visit.

How Do Dermatologists Treat AKs?

There are many treatments for AKs. Some treatments can be performed in the office by your dermatologist. Other treatments you will use at home. The goal of treatment is to destroy the AKs. Some patients receive more than one type of treatment. Treatments for AKs include:
In-office procedures:

  • Liquid Nitrogen Cryotherapy
  • Chemical peels
  • Curettage
  • Photodynamic therapy (PDT)
  • Laser resurfacing

Prescription medicine:
Your dermatologist may prescribe a medicine that you can use at home to treat AKs. Medicines that dermatologists prescribe include:

  • 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) cream
  • Diclofenac sodium gel
  • Imiquimod cream
  • Ingenol mebutate gel

Researchers continue to look for new treatments for AKs. No one treatment works on all AKs.


If you have many AKs, you need to be under a dermatologist’s care as you have a higher risk of them developing into Squamous Cell Carcinoma. With frequent checkups, this skin cancer can be found early and removed.

Your dermatologist will tell you how often you should return for checkups. Some patients need a checkup once every 8 to 12 weeks. Others return for a checkup 1 or 2 times per year.

You should keep every appointment. If skin cancer develops, the sooner it is detected and removed, the better the outcome.