Actinic keratoses (AKs) arise in areas of sun damage and typically coincide with other signs of sun damage such as uneven pigmentation, wrinkles, and loss of skin elasticity. They are red, flaky, and scaly spots that may be slightly painful to the touch. While AKs are not skin cancer, they are considered to be precancerous, which means that If they are left untreated, a significant proportion may develop into skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. Research has shown that people with AKs have an increased risk of developing other types of skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma and melanoma.
Guidelines published in 2015 for Canadian doctors recommend that all actinic keratoses be treated, since it is impossible to predict which ones will develop into skin cancer.
Schedule an appointment online or call (888) 803-3762.
Treating The Whole Area Rather Than Individual Spots
If you have several actinic keratoses (AKs) or if your skin is showing irregular or uneven patches of pigmentation it is a sign of skin damage and that puts you at a higher risk for developing skin cancer. Identifying and treating damaged skin helps you reduce that risk. It is important to remember that for every one AK or visible area of uneven pigmentation that we see, there are many more that are hiding under the surface, invisible to the naked eye. Studies have shown that for every single AK that we see, there can be anywhere between 10-1000 that we do not see. The spots serve as an early warning system, a sort of “Canary in the Coal Mine.”
While there are numerous treatment options available, the optimal treatment depends on how many lesions you have, where they are, your age and overall health.
Generally if there are 5 or more actinic keratoses on the whole face or 3 or more in a small region (i.e. temple, forehead, or nose) it is time to consider treating the whole field much like you would treat the whole grass rather than plucking individual weeds out.
Treatment Options Include:
Localized Treatments (Individual Lesions)
- Liquid Nitrogen
- Trichloroacetic Acid (TCA) Peel
- Surgical Procedures (shave, cryosurgery, excision, curettage)
Whole Field Treatments
- Medical laser procedures (CO2, Erbium: YAG Pixel, and Fraxel)
- Topical treatments (Efudex, Zyclara, Picato)
- Photodynamic therapy (PDT)
- Combination therapy
Generally, combination / pairing of therapies tends to have the greatest efficacy when compared to any one treatment. However, if caught early we may start with one treatment.
Most Frequent Combinations Include:
- Medical laser Treatment (CO2 or Erbium YAG, Fraxel) and PDT
- Efudex shortened course and PDT
- Efudex and Dovonex
Restoring The Cells’ Capacity To Fight Off DNA Damage
In addition to treating the damaged cells, a new and growing body of research is showing that it may also be important to regenerate the skin cells and to restore their ability to protect themselves from UV damage. In fact, recent findings have identified new concepts to treat precancerous actinic damage by preventing the development of skin cancer. Under normal settings (assuming no genetic abnormalities), young and functional skin cells have self-protective mechanisms that repair the damage from UV / sun exposure, thereby preventing or delaying the formation of skin cancer. However, after a certain amount of exposure to UV light, this repair mechanism itself gets damaged and damaged skin cells are able to continue proliferating. Compared to sun protected skin, sun damaged skin has a higher incidence of senescence (sleeping cells) and a decreased production of a protective factor known as Insulin Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1). Fortunately, there is a way to reverse this damage.
Current Treatments Known To Fix Your Cells’ DNA Repair Mechanisms
- Carbon Dioxide (ECo2) Laser
- Erbium: YAG Pixel Laser
- Dermabrasion (not micro-dermabrasion)
- Microneedling (does not fix pigmentation and doesn’t destroy actinic keratosis)
What Is The Best Treatment For Actinic Keratosis? Which One Is Best For Me?
Numerous studies have shown that combination treatment is the best treatment. This may be done right away or over time if one type of treatment fails to generate the desired results. In addition, one must consider that certain treatments eliminate the damage already present, while other treatments may increase your skin’s ability to repair itself. Ultimately a combination of both mechanisms will lead to optimal outcomes. New options in field-directed therapy with superior efficacy, cosmesis, and convenience with much less downtime, and redness may appeal to patients, but these may not be covered by OHIP or private insurance plans. Ablative and non-ablative medical laser treatments for patients in Guelph and Burlington may fulfill these advantages and have been investigated as monotherapies as well as combination therapies for treating extensive AKs.
What To Do After Treatment
Some of these combination therapies can increase photosensitivity (make it easier for you to burn in the sun). Be sure to be especially careful about protecting your skin from sun / UV rays during and after treatment as directed.
Skin care after-treatment including the addition of topical Vitamin C serum, retinol and sunscreen with an SPF >30 are recommended for optimal skin health. Please note that most over the counter Vitamin C serums have been shown to be ineffective – it is important to select ones that are properly formulated and have proven evidence of efficacy. Taken properly, these treatments reduce the risk of AKs, skin cancers, and visible signs of aging. They can also reduce the need for more extensive therapy.
After treatment, it is important to inspect your skin regularly and visit your dermatologist or family doctor (based on your severity) at recommended intervals to screen for AKs and monitor for skin cancers. It is important to know that no treatment is curative, and treatments may need to be repeated based on what is determined at your physical exam. Everyone is different and repeat treatments can vary from anywhere from 3 months to 2 years, however, the average is yearly treatment.
Schedule A Consultation
Women and men looking for treatment for actinic keratosis in Kitchener, Cambridge, and surrounding areas in Southwestern Ontario choose deRMA Skin Institute for their treatments. Request a consultation using the online form or call us at (888) 803-3762 to schedule an appointment with one of our dermatologists.
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- Kawashima S, Funakoshi T, Sato Y, Saito N, Ohsawa H, Kurita K, et al. Protective effect of pre- and post-vitamin C treatments on UVB-irradiation-induced skin damage. Sci Rep [Internet]. 2018;8(1):16199. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/s41598-018-34530-4
- Vanessa Ngan, Staff Writer. Topical vitamin C [Internet]. dermnetnz.org. 2002. Available from: https://dermnetnz.org/topics/topical-vitamin-c
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Dusan Sajic, MD, PhD
Richard Backstein, MD
Sonja Sajic, CCPA
With more than 20 years of experience, deRMA Skin Institute strive to offer patients the most advanced treatments available to keep their skin healthy and looking its best. Board Certified Dermatologist, Dusan Sajic, MD, PhD, board-certified Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon, Richard Backstein, MD, FRCSC, and Sonja Sajic, CCPA are committed to providing state-of-the-art medical, surgical and cosmetic treatments to all patients in Guelp, Burlington, Cambridge, Kitchener, Hamilton, Milton, and surrounding areas.