An actinic keratosis or solar keratosis is a crusty or scaly patch of skin that typically develops on an area that gets a lot of exposure to the sun, such as the arms or face. It is sometimes described as a “pre-cancer,” because it can develop into some form of skin cancer. Around ten percent of actinic keratosis becomes squamous cell carcinomas.
How Is an Actinic Keratosis Treated?
An actinic keratosis can sometimes go away on its own, but it might then come back after the patient is exposed to more sun. Since it’s impossible to predict which AK will become cancerous, doctors usually prefer to remove them to be on the safe side.
If the patient has several actinic keratoses, the dermatologist might prescribe medications that can cover the entire area. If the patient has only a few AKs, the surgeon may remove them one by one. The most common procedure used in this case is cryotherapy in which the dermatologist applies liquid nitrogen or some other extremely cold substance to the AK, which eventually peels off.
What is Photodynamic Therapy?
Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is a procedure used to treat many types of cancer and pre-cancer. The dermatologist will apply a photosensitizing agent to the treatment site to increase its sensitivity to light. The medical professional will leave it on the treatment site for a period of time. The doctor will then expose the AK to the light. Exposure to the light stimulates the photosensitizing agent into reacting with oxygen. That reaction produces a chemical that kills the abnormal cells. Photodynamic therapy might also stimulate the immune system and destroy the blood vessels feeding the cancer cells.
Advantages of Photodynamic Therapy
Photodynamic therapy works as well as many other procedures in treating AKs. It has many other advantages, including the following:
• It’s less invasive than surgery
• It can be very precise
• It does not cause any long-term side effects
• It’s usually a quick procedure that can be done in an outpatient setting
• Unlike radiation therapy, it can be applied to the same site many times if necessary
• It usually does not cause scarring
If an AK is not completely removed by the procedure, the patient may get another treatment eight weeks after the first one. To learn more about photodynamic therapy, visit Integrated Dermatology of Coral Gables, located in Coral Gables. During a consultation at our office, we can help you determine if this is the right treatment for your actinic keratosis. Contact us today to schedule your appointment.