Actinic keratoses (AKs) are dry, scaly, rough, tender patches or spots that occur on the skin after years of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, such as sunlight. These spots may be easier to feel than see; when touched, they often feel like sandpaper.
Actinic keratoses are also referred to as solar keratoses, senile keratoses, sunspots, and age spots.
AKs can range in colour from skin-toned to reddish-brown and frequently develop on areas that receive years of sun exposure such as the face, ears, lips, scalp, neck, forearms and back of hands. They usually range from 2 to 6 mm in size and can gradually enlarge. These spots can also sometimes become a cone-shaped growth that occurs above the skin surface, called a “cutaneous horn”.
Since it takes many years or even decades for actinic keratoses to develop, they are usually seen in people over the age of 40. Individuals with fair skin, a history of cumulative sun exposure or a weak immune system are at greatest risk of developing AKs.
Actinic keratoses are considered the earliest stage in the development of skin cancer and should be monitored. Between 1 in 100 and 1 in 1000 AK lesions will become cancerous.