Spotting changes in your skin can be disconcerting, but how do you know if the changes are precancerous? Medically known as actinic keratosis, precancerous skin growths affect about 35% of people in the United States. And recognizing these growths is important when it comes to preventing skin cancer. Without treatment, up to 10% of actinic keratosis cases turn into squamous cell carcinoma.
At the practice of Ali Hendi, MD, in Chevy Chase, Maryland, Dr. Hendi and our team of skin cancer experts specialize in diagnosing and treating actinic keratosis. In this blog, we explore signs to look out for and ways we can help.
The basics of precancerous skin
Precancerous skin usually develops from repeated and prolonged exposure to the sun’s UV rays. If you don’t wear sun-protective clothing or appropriate sunscreen outdoors, those rays can damage your skin. While some of the damage may be noticeable immediately, such as a suntan or sunburn, over time, the damage can accumulate and lead to precancerous changes.
While most people can develop these issues, numerous factors can increase your risk, such as:
- Being older than age 40
- Having blond or red hair and light-colored eyes
- Having a long history of sun exposure or sunburns
- Living in a sunny place
- Tending to freckle or burn easily from sunlight
- Working outdoors
- Having a weakened immune system
Visible signs of precancerous skin
Skin affected by actinic keratosis doesn’t usually look very alarming. Especially early on, it may be easy to mistake for an age spot, acne, or mild injury. While patches can vary in particulars, some of the signs include:
- Crustiness or bleeding
- Diameter of less than one inch
- Discoloration, often appearing brown, pink, gray, red, yellow, or white
- Flat or slightly raised
- Hard or wart-like surface
- Roughness or scaly skin
The patches or bumps often appear on frequently sun-exposed areas, such as the hands, forearms, and neck. And, they may burn, feel tender to the touch, or itch. In some cases, they may stick to your clothing.
One especially bothersome symptom can affect your mouth area. Having a precancerous growth on one of your lips can feel like chapped lips that no amount of topical moisture will help.
Treating precancerous skin
Several treatments are available for actinic keratosis. If you have multiple growths, Dr. Hendi may prescribe an FDA-approved topical medication to apply at home. This medication can also help eliminate precancerous growths that aren’t yet visible.
Depending on the size and number of patches, he may recommend removal through freezing, light therapy, or surgery. And while many patients only need 1-2 sessions, the number you’ll need will depend on the same factors.
And, once you’ve had at least one precancerous skin growth, you would benefit from skin cancer surveillance. These comprehensive visual exams can help detect early signs of cancerous and precancerous skin.
To learn more about precancerous skin or to get the skincare you need, call 301-259-5710 or book an appointment online with the practice of Ali Hendi, MD, today.