Love for the sun is ageless. Unfortunately, your skin isn't.
- What you need to know about actinic keratoses.
- What are actinic keratoses?
- Perform a spot check.
- Risk factors for actinic keratoses.
- Precancerous lesions.
- Treating actinic keratoses.
- Efudex®: a nonsurgical alternative.
- Talk to your doctor.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ACTINIC KERATOSES.
Actinic keratoses (also known as solar keratoses) is a skin disease resulting from many years of exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays. Many older, fair-skinned people have some actinic keratoses. Individually, actinic keratoses lesions may go unnoticed. But, over time, these small, discolored patches may grow and multiply forming large, unsightly areas on the skin. Left untreated, they could lead to even more serious problems.
WHAT ARE ACTINIC KERATOSES?
Overexposure to sunlight can damage your skin. The immediate symptom that we are all familiar with is a sunburn. After many years, however, this damage can cause skin cells to begin growing at an abnormally fast rate. The lesions formed when this occurs are called actinic keratoses.
PERFORM A SPOT CHECK.
Look at yourself in a mirror. Actinic keratoses are most likely to form on areas of your skin that are frequently exposed to direct sunlight, such as your arms, face, ears or bald areas of your scalp. First appearing as small tan, brown, or reddish-brown patches, actinic keratoses can range from a few millimeters to a few centimeters in diameter. These lesions may be flat or raised, and generally have ill-defined borders.
Feel any lesions you may have that fit this description. Typically, actinic keratoses will have a white scaly top and will be rough and gritty to the touch. Some may form a hard, depressed scar-like mass. If you have any lesions that fit this description, or questions regarding actinic keratoses, please consult your physician.
RISK FACTORS FOR ACTINIC KERATOSES.
Actinic keratoses strike primarily in the older, Caucasian population, particularly fair-skinned people such as those of Nordic descent. At added risk are those who spend a great deal of time outdoors - fishermen, ranchers, farmers, construction workers, etc. Because sun damage tends to have a cumulative effect, symptoms generally become evident when you're fifty years old or older.
In and of themselves, the primary concern regarding actinic keratoses is cosmetic. If left untreated, however, the risks become much greater. Actinic keratoses can develop into squamous cell carcinoma - a dangerous form of skin cancer. Squamous cell carcinoma may grow rapidly, and has a greater tendency to metastasize (spread to other parts of the body) than other skin cancers.
TREATING ACTINIC KERATOSES.
Your physician has many proven techniques for treating actinic keratoses at his or her disposal. Any combination of these may be used depending upon the size, number and locations of lesions, as well as patient preference. Be certain to discuss your options before beginning any treatment.
Many physicians will surgically remove actinic keratoses lesions. One common method is through cryosurgery. This technique involves freezing the lesions utilizing chemicals such as liquid nitrogen.
For patients with large individual lesions or cutaneous horns, physicians may choose desiccation and curettage. This consists of scraping the lesion with a sharp instrument then cauterizing it with electrosurgery.
Another surgical technique for actinic keratoses is the use of lasers. The laser removes the outer layers of skin where the lesions exist. This technique is often used for patients with multiple surface lesions.
EFUDEX®: A NONSURGICAL ALTERNATIVE.
As an alternative to surgery, your physician may prescribe Efudex (fluorouracil). Efudex is a strong topical medication with 25 years of documented success in treating actinic keratoses. In fact, studies show that more than 98% of visible lesions respond to Efudex therapy. Because the rapidly growing abnormal cells that make up actinic keratoses absorb Efudex faster, it can eliminate them while sparing the surrounding normal cells. Following treatment, those abnormal cells are replaced by healthy, normal-looking skin.
As an added benefit, Efudex may reveal subclinical actinic keratoses that are otherwise not visible and would go untreated. These may total up to 10 times more than those that are visible to the naked eye. The earlier these are caught, the easier they may be to treat.
The most frequent adverse side effects to Efudex occur locally and may include: itching, burning, soreness, tenderness, scaling and swelling.
TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR.
Actinic keratoses can be unattractive, and if not properly treated, may lead to much more serious diseases. But you can avoid complications. Perform regular spot checks on your skin, particularly areas commonly exposed to the sun. If you notice anything suspicious, talk to your doctor. He or she can provide the proper diagnosis and treatment plan for you.
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Information copyright 1998 ICN Pharmaceuticals, Inc.