The skin condition actinic keratosis is the cause of over eight million primary care and dermatology visits annually. The skin disorder is characterized by cutaneous lesions found on sun damaged areas of the skin. The condition has previously been shown to be a precursor of nonmelanoma skin cancer, but recent clinical evidence indicated that it may be an early stage of cancer. The recent advances in the understanding of the disease have prompted a more detailed approach to the treatment of the skin condition.
Actinic keratosis arises from changes in the regulation of keratinocyte development, making the condition similar to squamous cell carcinomas. The close relationship has caused some researchers to suspect a relationship between the development of squamous cell carcinomas and the increase in actinic keratoses. A five-year research study in Australia, encompassing 1,689 individuals, showed that the presence of actinic keratoses had a variable rate of transformation to more squamous cell carcinoma. The average rate of progression to squamous cell carcinoma is six to ten percent over a ten year period. Of those that progress to squamous cell carcinoma a majority (the exact percentage varies from 41-75 percent per study) are invasive.
The progression of actinic keratosis to basal cell carcinoma has also been documented, but the rate of progression is less frequent. Both squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma occur on regions where actinic keratosis develops. Since nonmelanoma carcinoma and actinic keratosis result from sun damage, this links the disorders. The progression of actinic keratosis to nonmelanoma carcinoma may make actinic keratoses a precursor of cancer. The severity of actinic keratoses is not completely understood, nor is there any certainty that every case will develop into a form of cancer.
If you notice the development of actinic keratoses, it is important to schedule an appointment with a medical professional. Actinic keratosis is a dangerous condition, and can become life threatening if it develops into invasive nonmelanoma cancer. Early diagnosis and detection can prevent an unpleasant disorder from becoming a life threatening one.
Chris Gromisch is a Junior Chemistry major at Trinity College