Do you know how to spot an actinic keratosis lesion on your skin? According to skincancer.org, approximately 58 million Americans are affected by actinic keratoses. The more you have been exposed to the sun, the greater your chance of developing actinic keratosis. Unfortunately, the effect of sun exposure is cumulative, so those long days out in the sun when you were younger can add up to a significant amount of sun damage. Even if you didn’t suntan much or have a history of sunburns, years of exposure from playing sports outside, walking your dog or driving in your car can add to an increased risk factor toward developing precancers such as actinic keratosis.
What Are Actinic Keratoses (AKs)?
Actinic keratoses (AKs) are considered the first step in the development of skin cancer. Detecting an AK early can give you the opportunity to treat the lesion and prevent skin cancer before it starts. If left untreated some actinic keratoses may progress to squamous cell carcinoma. While most AKs are benign, the majority of squamous cell carcinomas arise from AK lesions.
How do you know if you may have an actinic keratosis lesion? Aks are usually found on areas of the body that are exposed to the sun. The most common places they develop are the face, ears, scalp, back of hands and forearms. Actinic keratoses can vary widely in appearance. Some AKs can be as small as a pinhead, while some are larger than a quarter. They can be thick, rough-textured, dry, scaly patches. Or, they can appear as red bumps with a tan crust that keep coming back and don’t heal. AKs are caused by long-term exposure to ultraviolet light, such as the sun.
Actinic Keratoses occur due to long term exposure to the sun, so they generally begin to appear after the age of 40. If you suspect you may have an AK, it is very important to see your dermatologist for treatment, to prevent cancer growth.
There are several different treatments for AKs ranging from topical creams to surgery, which may depend on how many lesions you have, where they are located and your age and overall health. Surgery is usually used in cases where a person has one or more isolated lesions. Your dermatologist can either scrape or shave off the lesion, then use heat or a chemical agent to destroy any remaining AK cells, or they can use liquid nitrogen to freeze the tissue, which eventually falls off, allowing healthy skin to grow. Some doctors may also recommend a chemical peel which will cause the top layers of skin to peel off, causing new skin to regrow.
However, when a patient has a large surface area with multiple AKs, your dermatologist may recommend either topical creams or Photodynamic Therapy. Below, we’ll explain more about photodynamic light therapy, what is involved in the process, and how the procedure may benefit you or a loved one.
What Is Photodynamic Therapy?
Photodynamic therapy (PDT) is a type of skin treatment that uses a photosensitizing topical agent called a Levulan Kerastick and a blue light source. The 2-step (drug + blue light) treatment is designed to treat minimally to moderately thick actinic keratoses (AK) lesions on the face, scalp or upper extremities. Once the drug is applied and penetrated into the skin, the blue light will “turn on” the drug, causing it to react with oxygen which forms a chemical that will weaken and destroy precancerous cells. The combined result is a gentle, non-invasive treatment that provides highly-effective results.
What Does the PDT Process Entail?
When you come to the office for a photodynamic therapy, the first step will be to clean and prep the area being treated with alcohol and acetone. This will remove any excess oil from the skin to allow the absorption of the topical photosensitizing drug. Next, the unique photosensitizing Levulan Kerastick will be applied to the skin, and you will wait anywhere from 1-2 hours for the medication to be absorbed into your skin. After the incubation period has passed, you will be given protective goggles and positioned under the blue light for 16 minutes and 40 seconds. Most patients rarely report pain during treatment, but some may experience a slight tingling or mild burning sensation. You will be given a fan to help cool your skin during the short treatment.
After treatment, your face will be cleaned and sunscreen will be applied. Your skin will be extremely light-sensitive, so it is imperative that you stay inside and out of the sun for at least 48 hours. The day after treatment, your skin will be red and possibly swollen, similar to a sunburn. It is also normal to experience mild peeling after a PDT treatment. Depending on the severity of a patient’s actinic keratosis, one to three treatments will be recommended, spaced one month apart.
Are You Concerned About Past Overexposure to the Sun and Related Skin Damage?
For many years, most people were unaware of the dangerous effects of overexposure to the sun. Today, however, we know that this is the leading cause of skin cancer. When you don’t wear sunscreen and protective clothing, or allow yourself to get a sunburn, your skin is left unprotected from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays.
Fortunately, with the advancement of science and technology with an increasing number of beneficial procedures such as photodynamic therapy, has helped individuals combat the harmful effects of the sun.
If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with actinic keratosis, skin cancer, psoriasis, or other related conditions, contact Feinstein Dermatology at (561) 498-4407 today to book a consultation and see if photodynamic light therapy could benefit you.