Treatment options for actinic keratosis (solar keratosis)

Actinic keratosis also known as solar keratosis is a common skin lesion that primarily affects older people. It is a chronic sun damage which develops after many years of sun exposure.

Anyone can suffer from solar keratosis but people with light skin type, or who live in countries where the UV radiance is strong are most likely to develop actinic keratosis.

Actinic keratosis are superficial lesions but can be a first step in development of skin cancer and should not be left untreated. They can be treated in many different ways and the choice of method depends on the size, location, appearance and colour of the skin lesion.

The first step is to let a doctor to examine your skin lesions, if your doctor thinks you need specialized care, a referral will be sent to a specialist clinic.

The four basic methods for removal of actinic keratosis

There are several effective treatments for solar keratsosis but unfortunately it is not for them to back after treatment. If so, repeated treatments may be necessary.

1. Freezing – the most common treatment method for individual solar keratosis

Freezing (cryosurgery) is the most common treatment method for single keratosis spots. The solar keratosis will be cooled down a short while with the help of liquid nitrogen (-196 degrees). Freezing treatment may cause some pain but occurs without local anesthesia.

The treated area usually becomes red, swollen and may cause blisters, also scabbed wounds can occur which will heal within 1-3 weeks. . After completion of treatment, a persistent bright spot can emerge.

2. Phototherapy – performed at hospitals and doctor’s office

Photodynamic therapy is performed at hospitals or private skin clinics. A cream will be applied at the treated area for 3-4 hours to increase the skin’s sensitivity to light of a certain wavelength.

Afterwards, the skin area will be lightening up with a red light and in combination with the red light; the cream will kill the cells.

The treatment is performed without anesthesia and will cause pain in combination with the light. The skin will become red, swollen and a wound will occur which usually heals within 2-4 weeks.

3. Creams – a practical method for widespread actinic keratosis

Fluorouracil cream is used primarily for widespread spots. The patient can apply the ointment on the affected skin area for 3-6 weeks.

During the first weeks of treatment, a strong redness and irritation can occur and then skin wounds. When the wounds begin to occur, the treatment usually finishes. It is important not to sunbathe during the treatment because it can enhance infection in the skin.

Aldara Imiquimod cream is an immune modulator which helps the body’s own immune system to get rid of the damaged cells. It is used three times a week during four weeks time, treatment with Aldara can also cause redness, irritation and skin wounds.

4. Laser treatment – removes the affected tissue with heat

A so called ablative laser can be used as a gamma knife for removal of skin tumors and to burn away superficial skin lesions from layer to layer down to new and well skin tissue.

If large areas are treated with laser it will occur under local anesthesia. You can read more about it on our information page about laser treatments.

Sunscreen best protection against further skin problems

In addition to above treatments it is very important to use high sun protection factor of at least SPF 30. Therefore, by protecting yourself from the sun it will reduce the chances of new skin lesions.

Treatment prices for Actinis keratosis

Individual and thin solar keratosis can be treated in primary care, while widespread and thick lesions are referred to a dermatologist.

More information and options about treatment for actinic keratsos

This information about Actinic keratosis has been examined by dermatologist Tore Nilsen at Vaxsjo Medical Centre. The content should be seen as general information and guidance and cannot replace a visit at the doctor’s.

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