Coping with Actinic Keratosis

A trip to the dermatologist is always an adventure for me even in the best of times.

A trip to the dermatologist

I never quite know what new term or phrase is going to be thrust into my life. I have Google at the ready to try and make sense of what is being told me by my medical professional. As the doctor is examining my skin and making verbal notes for his assistant, I wonder what he is saying.

Anxiety during the skin examination

This has gotten even more complex as I have aged. My skin is a wonderland of bumps, shades, and textures each having its own medical term. While I might see age spots, flakiness, or just a “bump”, my doctor rattles out precise medical descriptions of each “thing.” I end up asking what each thing is and wonder if it is cancer or will become cancer. I keep hearing terms like “precancerous” and I begin to feel anxious.

A new concern

One such issue I seem to be having is called actinic keratosis or in my layman’s terms, “flaky bits”. As I have gotten older I have more and more of these areas and I have begun to wonder what’s the deal? Is this something I need to worry about? Should I go to the doctor when I notice new areas of dry flaky skin or just put on lotion?

What is actinic keratosis?

Well, actinic keratosis (AK) is something to monitor according to a recent online health and wellness article.1 AK areas are precancerous, which means that they are not currently skin cancer but can turn into skin cancer if not treated. AK areas are rough, dry, and scaly and can appear white, tan, brown, grey, or pink. Ugh, that seems like the colors of everything on my skin.

Signs and symptoms

AKs can itch or burn and sting or even bleed. They can be encrusted and hard (so not a fan of them!). They are common with more than 40 million Americans developing them every year. Generally, people who are fairer-skinned and tanned a lot (me) are at a higher risk for developing actinic keratosis lesions.

Treatment and removal

It is recommended that you get your skin checked if you suspect that you have AKs. Removing actinic keratosis lesions may include cryosurgery (freezing the area), curettage (scraping the top layer of skin off), or Mohs surgery (excising layers of skin until all affected skin is removed.) Other treatment options include laser surgery, photodynamic therapy, or prescription creams, such as fluorouracil.

Part of the routine now

It’s yet another thing to think about and monitor. I keep track of each new area that changes whether it be a mole, the shading or color of an area of skin, or the shape and texture of small patches. Over the years, my doctors have taken a very conservative approach to these. Some have been treated through cryosurgery, but most have simply been left alone and monitored.

Now that I know more about AK, I am going to push for more aggressive treatment options. As always, I need to be my best advocate.

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