II. Epidemiology

  1. Most common premalignant skin lesion
    1. Responsible for 60% of Squamous Cell Carcinoma involving the skin
  2. Prevalence: White skin (increases with age)
    1. Age 20-29: 10%
    2. Age 80-89: 75%

III. Pathophysiology

  1. Superficial keratotic tumor
  2. Previously considered distinct premalignant changes
  3. Now thought to be very early Squamous Cell Carcinomas
    1. Ortonne (2002) Br J Dermatol 146:20-3 [PubMed]

IV. Risk Factors

  1. Fair-skinned, blue-eyed persons
  2. Living in sunny climate
  3. Cummulative extensive Sun Exposure
  4. Older persons

V. Symptoms

  1. Typically asymptomatic
  2. May be pruritic or burning

VI. Signs

  1. Characteristics: Rough Scaly patches
    1. Discrete, circumscribed
    2. Verrucous or keratotic
    3. White scale or rough patch
    4. Red-brown, pink or skin-colored Macule or Papule
    5. Often recurs after patient "picks off" scale
    6. Vary in size from millimeters to centimeters (typically 2-6 mm in size)
  2. Distribution: Sun exposed areas
    1. Face and neck
      1. Left more common (Car driver's window side)
    2. Dorsal hands
    3. Forearms

VII. Diagnosis

  1. Diagnosis by "feel": Rough
    1. Palpated more easily than seen
  2. Biopsy is rarely indicated

VIII. Management: Procedures

  1. Cryotherapy with Liquid Nitrogen
    1. Debride hyperkeratotic lesions first
    2. Freeze, slowly thaw and then refreeze
    3. Efficacy increases with duration of freeze time
      1. Freeze 5 seconds: 39% cure rate
      2. Freeze 20 seconds: 83% cure rate
  2. Curettage
    1. Infiltrate area with local Anesthetic
    2. Consider for hyperkeratotic lesions
    3. Adjuncts
      1. Trichloroacetic acid (TCA) before curettage
      2. Electrosurgery post-curettage to destroy residual tissue
  3. Photodynamic therapy
    1. Photosensitizer applied to skin followed by exposure to specific light source
    2. Protocols
      1. Aminolevulinic Acid (Levulan Kerastick): Exposure to blue light after 14 hours
      2. Methyl aminolevulinate (Metvixia): Exposure to red light after 3 hours

IX. Management: Topical Treatments with Keratolytics

  1. Indicated when numerous lesions (e.g. >15 lesions present)
  2. Topical 5-Flourouracil (5-FU)
    1. Preparations
      1. Fluorouracil cream 5% (Efudex) - preferred, most effective at lowest cost
      2. Fluorouracil cream 1% (Fluoroplex)
      3. Fluorouracil microspore cream 0.5% (Carac)
    2. Adverse effects
      1. Healing may require 2 months
      2. Photosensitivity (protect from direct sun)
      3. Dryness, erythema, irritation, crusting, pealing and even disfigurement on the face
        1. Irritation more common with 5% cream; 0.5% appears better tolerated (but less effective)
        2. Apply Skin Lubricants frequently (consider petrolatum at night)
        3. May apply cool compresses to soothe skin
    3. Technique
      1. Use twice daily to twice weekly for 2-4 weeks until marked inflammation and lesion crusts over
      2. Consider 0.5% cream for one week prior to Cryotherapy
      3. Wait 30 min before applying Sunscreen or makeup
      4. If excessive response occurs, stop for 2-3 days and then restart for total of 2-4 cummulative weeks
    4. Efficacy
      1. 5-fluorouracil 5% cream more effective, less re-treatement than Imiquimod, ingenol and Phototherapy
        1. 5-FU 5% cream is also among the most cost effective options (<$100 per course)
        2. However lower concentrations (e.g. Carac) having more limited efficacy, at 10 times the cost
        3. Jansen (2019) N Engl J Med 380:935-46 [PubMed]
  3. Topical Diclofenac 3% gel in 2.5% hyaluronic acid (Solaraze)
    1. Technique: Apply twice daily for 90 days
    2. Efficacy
      1. Complete resolution in 50% of cases
      2. Less effective than Imiquimod (Aldara), 5-Fluorouracil (5-FU) or ingenol (Picato), yet >$600 per course
    3. Adverse Effects
      1. Skin inflammation (Local irritation, dryness and Pruritus
        1. Less irritating than Imiquimod (Aldara), 5-Fluorouracil (5-FU) or ingenol (Picato)
    4. Reference
      1. Rivers (1997) Arch Dermatol 133:1239-42 [PubMed]
  4. Imiquimod 5% Cream (Aldara)
    1. Applied 3-4 times weekly at bedtime and wash off in AM; use for up to 16 weeks
    2. Efficacy
      1. Complete response in up to 57% of patients
      2. Partial response (75% reduction) in up to 72% of patients
    3. Adverse effects
      1. Cosmetic outcomes not studied
      2. Severe erythema (80%)
      3. Severe erosions (40%)
    4. Alternative preparation
      1. Zyclara (2.5 to 3.75% cream) used for 2 weeks on and 2 weeks off cycles (at 10 times the cost of Aldara)
    5. References
      1. Stockfleth (2002) Arch Dermatol 138:1498-502 [PubMed]
  5. Ingenol mebutate (Picato gel)
    1. Technique: Total course is 2-3 days
      1. Picato 0.05%: Apply to torso or extremities for 2 days
      2. Picato 0.015%: Apply to face or scalp for 3 days
    2. Adverse effects
      1. Skin irritation (erythema, flaking or crusting)
    3. Efficacy
      1. Similar to Imiquimod and 5-Fluorouracil, but very expensive ($1000)
  6. Tirbanibulin (Klisyri) 1% Ointment
    1. Released in 2021
    2. Only 5 day course, but with no evidence of benefit over 5-FU in efficacy or tolerability and at 10 times the cost (>$1000)
    3. (2021) Presc Lett 28(7): 41
  7. Chemical Peels for face (applied by dermatology)
    1. Similar efficacy to fluorouracil
    2. Preparations
      1. Jessner's Solution (Resorcinol, Lactic Acid, Salicylic acid)
      2. Trichloroacetic acid 35% (Tri-Chlor)
    3. References
      1. Lawrence (1995) Arch Dermatol 131:176-81 [PubMed]

X. Management: Adjunctive measures

  1. Niacinamide
    1. Indicated if Actinic Keratosis patient with 2 or more Nonmelanoma Skin Cancers
    2. Decreases risk of new Actinic Keratosis lesions and Nonmelanoma Skin Cancers
    3. Dose: 500 mg orally twice daily ($5/month)

XI. Prevention

  1. See Sun Exposure (lists general preventive measures)
  2. See Sunscreen

XII. Course

  1. Spontaneous resolution in 25-50% of lesions over 12 months
  2. Progression to squamous cell cancer: 6-10% over 10 years
    1. Actinic Keratoses are a marker of invasive SCSS
    2. Malignant transformation rate may be as high as 20% per year
    3. Malignant transformation of Actinic Keratoses are responsible for 60% of CSCC cases
  3. Higher risk of Squamous Cell Carcinoma progression in thick tumors (especially on scalp), Immunosuppression

XIII. References

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Related Studies

Ontology: Actinic keratosis (C0022602)

Definition (MSH) White or pink lesions on the arms, hands, face, or scalp that arise from sun-induced DNA DAMAGE to KERATINOCYTES in exposed areas. They are considered precursor lesions to superficial SQUAMOUS CELL CARCINOMA.
Definition (CHV) precancerous thick and scaly patches of skin
Definition (CHV) precancerous thick and scaly patches of skin
Definition (CHV) precancerous thick and scaly patches of skin
Definition (NCI) A precancerous lesion of the skin composed of atypical keratinocytes. It is characterized by the presence of thick, scaly patches of skin. Several histologic variants have been described, including atrophic, acantholytic, and hyperkeratotic variants.
Definition (NCI_NCI-GLOSS) A thick, scaly patch of skin that may become cancer. It usually forms on areas exposed to the sun, such as the face, scalp, back of the hands, or chest. It is most common in people with fair skin.
Concepts Neoplastic Process (T191)
MSH D055623
ICD9 702.0
ICD10 L57.0
SnomedCT 856006, 201106002, 267858008, 201096007, 201107006, 156398007, 267860005, 156395005, 201098008, 156400006, 201101007, 201097003, 46795000
English Keratosis, Actinic keratosis, Keratinocytic intraepidermal neoplasia, actinic keratosis (diagnosis), actinic keratosis, Actinic Keratoses, Keratosis, Actinic, Keratoses, Actinic, Actinic Keratosis, Actinic keratoses, Keratosis NOS, Keratosis, Actinic [Disease/Finding], Solar hyperkeratosis, Senile hyperkeratosis (disorder), senile keratosis, solar keratosis, Solar keratosis, Senile keratosis, Senile hyperkeratosis, Senile keratoma, AK - Actinic keratosis, Atrophic keratosis, Hyperplastic keratosis, SK - Solar keratosis, Actinic keratosis (disorder), Actinic keratosis (morphologic abnormality), Senile keratoma (disorder), keratosis, actinic, hyperkeratosis; senile, keratoma; senile, keratosis actinica, keratosis; actinic, keratosis; senile, keratosis; sunshine, actinic; keratosis, senile; hyperkeratosis, senile; keratoma, senile; keratosis, sunshine; keratosis, Actinic (Solar) Keratosis, Senile Hyperkeratosis, Senile Keratosis, Solar Keratosis, keratosis, solar hyperkeratosis
Dutch seniele keratosis, seniel keratoom, zonkeratosis, stralingskeratose, actinisch; keratose, hyperkeratose; seniel, keratoom; seniel, keratose; actinisch, keratose; seniel, keratose; zonnestraling, seniel; hyperkeratose, seniel; keratoom, seniel; keratose, zonnestraling; keratose, Keratosis actinica
French Kératome sénile, Kératose sénile, Kératose solaire, Kératose actinique
German solare Keratose, Keratoma senile, senile Keratose, Aktinische Keratose, Keratose, aktinische, Keratosis actinica
Italian Cheratosi senile, Cheratoma senile, Cheratosi solare, Cheratosi attinica
Portuguese Queratose senil, Queratose solar, Ceratoma senil, Ceratose Actínica, Ceratose Solar, Queratose actínica
Spanish Queratosis senil, Queratoma senil, Queratosis solar, neoplasia intraepidérmica queratinocítica, Queratosis Actínica, Queratosis Solar, hiperqueratosis senil, queratoma senil (trastorno), queratoma senil, queratosis actínica (anomalía morfológica), queratosis actínica (trastorno), queratosis actínica, queratosis hiperplásica, queratosis senil, queratosis solar, Queratosis actínica
Japanese 老人性角化症, 老人性角化腫, ロウジンセイカクカショウ, ニッコウカクカショウ, ニッコウカッカショウ, ニッコウセイカクカショウ, ロウジンセイカッカショウ, ロウジンセイカクカシュ, 角化症-光線, 紫外線性角化症, 角化症-日光, 紫外線角化症, 日光角化症, 光線角化症, 日光性角化症, 角化症-紫外線, 光線性角化症
Czech Aktinická keratóza, Senilní keratom, Solární keratóza, Senilní keratóza, keratóza aktinická
Korean 광선 각화증
Swedish Keratos, aktinisk
Polish Rogowacenie słoneczne
Hungarian Keratosis actinica, Senilis keratoma, Keratosis senile, Solaris keratosis
Norwegian Keratosis actinica, Aktinisk keratose, Solar keratose