Actinic Keratoses (Sun Spots)
Causes & Symptoms
Actinic keratoses, also known as ‘sun spots’ and ‘solar keratoses’, are rough, scaly patches that are often felt before they are seen. They can occur anywhere on the body, but more frequently occur on areas with high sun exposure. They are caused by sun damage and are more likely to occur in fair-skinned individuals.
Actinic keratoses are ‘pre-cancerous’ and may turn into skin cancers (of the squamous cell carcinoma type). The risk of each actinic keratosis developing into a cancer is low, however we are unable to predict which ones will evolve. In addition, if there are multiple sun spots in a sun-damaged area of skin, the risk of cancer developing is increased.
If a sun spot starts to become thick and crusty or ulcerated and painful, we advise you book a skin consultation with one of our expert doctors at The Skin Hospital. This would also exclude other problems associated with sun damage, such as skin cancer.
Prevention is better than a cure. Using good sun protection measures, including daily broad spectrum sunscreen, can help prevent further sun damage and the development of further actinic keratoses. These measures may also decrease the number of actinic keratoses already present.
Treatment at The Skin Hospital
Above all, there are many treatment options. The risks, benefits, downtime and costs of the treatments are quite variable, and our specialists at The Skin Hospital will be able to help you with the most relevant treatment options for you. These treatments are:
- Cryotherapy – the use of liquid nitrogen to freeze the affected area. This might be a good option if there are only a few actinic keratoses. However, it is not a practical treatment if there are many sun spots and it may leave the skin lighter in colour (hypopigmented) in the treated area.
- ‘Field’ treatments treat a whole area, rather than just the sun spots that can be seen. Examples of field treatments include: 5-flurouracil cream (efudix), ingenol mebutate gel (picato) and imiquimod cream (aldara). Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is another technique in which a cream that increases sensitivity to light in combination with light treatment (either laser, non-laser light or daylight) is used to destroy abnormal cells.
- Surgery is used when the lesion is thicker. Removing the lesion with curettage/cautery or excision may be the preferred treatment option – the tissue will then be examined histologically to ensure it is not a skin cancer.
- Other treatments: At The Skin Hospital we frequently run clinical trials for products treating actinic keratoses. If you are interested in taking part in a trial or would like to know more, please contact the clinical trials team.
If you would like further information on actinic keratoses the sites below provide more in-depth descriptions of actinic keratoses: