October 13, 2022

Precancerous Lesions – Actinic Keratosis

What are Precancerous Lesions, also known as actinic keratosis or solar keratosis?

You may have heard of precancerous lesions or actinic keratosis, but what exactly are they?

Actinic keratosis (AK) is a rough, scaly patch or a bump on the skin. Actinic keratoses are very common, and many people have them. They are typically caused by ultraviolet (UV) damage to the skin – and being Australia, a country that loves outdoor activities, you can imagine that the incidence is alarming.

The News Medical Life & Sciences reports that “the prevalence of actinic keratosis is highest in Australia, with an estimated prevalence of 37-55% in Australian adults over the age of 40. This is likely to be linked to the high UV radiation exposure to a population with relatively fair skin”.

The trouble with actinic keratoses is that some of those lesions can turn into squamous cell skin cancer. That is why the lesions are often called precancers. Although they are not typically life-threatening when they are found and treated early, it is important to be alert about them and practice careful prevention. Actinic keratoses usually occur on sun-exposed areas of the body, such as the face, scalp, ears, chest, back, hands, and arms. Therefore, all those areas should be examined regularly, especially if you are at higher risk for developing AK.

They most often appear in people who have had a lot of exposure to UV rays over their lifetime. This includes people who spend a lot of time outdoors and people who work with certain chemicals that increase their UV exposure.

Although actinic keratoses are usually found in older adults, they can occur at any age in people with a history of high UV exposure. The lesions usually appear as small, rough bumps that range in colour from flesh-toned to reddish-brown or black. They may be dry or oily. They may look like warts, crusted sores, or scaly patches of skin. And they may be itchy or painful.

Since actinic keratosis is the most common type of precancer, early diagnosis and treatment of actinic keratoses can help prevent squamous cell skin cancer from developing. So If you have any rough, scaly patches on your skin that you’re concerned about, our skin-cancer experts are available for a skin check.

Who is at risk for developing AK?

AK is caused by long-term exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun or tanning beds. Here are some of the most common risks factors:


AK usually develops in people over the age of 50.

//Skin type

People with fair skin, blue or green eyes, and red or blond hair are also at increased risk for developing AK.

//Immune system

People with suppressed immune systems are at a higher risk for developing actinic keratosis because their bodies are unable to repair the damaged DNA as effectively.

//Skin Sensitivity

People with rare conditions that make the skin very sensitive to UV rays are also at an increased risk.

//Geographical location

The closer to the equator you live, the more likely you are to have AKs.

While Actinic keratosis is not cancer, it can develop into squamous cell skin cancer if left untreated. Therefore, it is important for people who are at an increased risk to be vigilant about checking their skin for any changes and to see a skin cancer expert for regular screenings.

What are the symptoms of AK?

AK usually appears as a dry, scaly patch on the skin that is either red, tan, or black. Usually they are asymptomatic. The lesion may be raised or flat and is often rough to the touch. AK lesions can appear on any part of the body that has been exposed to the sun, but they are most commonly found on the face, ears, scalp, chest, and back of the hands.

Can AK be treated?

Yes, AK can be treated with topical cream or gel, cryotherapy (freezing) or photodynamic therapy (PDT). Your doctor will recommend the best treatment plan for you based on the size and location of your lesions and your overall health. King Street Skin Cancer clinic offers a wide range of skin cancer treatment and surgery services; do not hesitate to contact our friendly staff to assist you with your concerns.


Skin health is a complex matter and the best way to approach it is through awareness and prevention. Not all GPs are trained and experienced in skin cancer-related issues, so it is important that you rely on a qualified and specialised skin cancer practitioner, such as King Street Skin Cancer Clinic (learn more about our Team). Plus, our resources page is available for additional information for more skin cancer prevention and treatment options (although nothing can replace an in-person consultation with a specialised healthcare professional).

If you have any concerns about growth on your skin, please make an appointment with one of our Expertsspecialists. Early detection and treatment of precancerous lesions can help prevent skin cancer development.


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