When you think of summer what’s the first thing that come to mind? Relaxing on the beach or by a pool?
Exposing your freshly painted toenails in flip flops? Smelling coconuts and pineapple or newly clipped grass?
Sipping iced drinks? Tanks and shorts?
Regardless of your answer, chances are pretty high actinic keratosis (AK) wasn’t topping your list. Yet did you know there is a one in six chance you already have this precancerous skin condition?
AK, sometimes called solar keratosis, forms on skin that soaks up sunshine year after year. It is sometimes confused with sun spots or age spots, but tends to manifest itself as a rough, dry, scaly patch or lesion that forms on sun-exposed areas like the face, neck and scalp.
Board-certified dermatologist Erin Gilbert, MD, PhD, and spokesperson for the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), says while AK are very common, they can also be very dangerous.
AK can progress to squamous cell carcinoma, the second-most-common type of skin cancer. One in five Americans will develop some type of skin cancer in his or her lifetime, according to the AAD.
“It’s very important to check your skin for signs and symptoms of sun damage. In addition to moles, persistent skin changes in color and texture, like red, pink, grey or skin-colored patches that are rough or scaly, are often indications of sun damage, and may not be as obvious as a mole. I often tell my patients to have their partner or spouse check their skin regularly for any of these signs,” Dr. Gilbert said in a written statement.
A recent survey of Americans adults, age 25 or older, conducted between Jan. 31 and Feb. 7, 2012 by Public Strategies Inc., revealed 90 percent of respondents had never heard of AK. More than half of the people surveyed (58 percent) thought they were at risk for sun damage but had never checked their own skin or had a medical professional check their skin for sun damage-related skin conditions.
The survey also revealed some other dangerous misconceptions about skin health. Respondents rated tanned skin as one of the most attractive skin features, and 60 percent acknowledged spending time outdoors at least a few times per week, but only 14 percent said they wear sun protection daily.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, tanned skin or a sunburn is a visible sign of sun damage, and sun damage significantly increases a person’s risk of developing skin cancer. The good news is skin cancer is highly curable when caught and treated before it spreads, making early detection essential to your health.
AAD says anyone who has many AKs should be under a dermatologist’s care as most people who develop AKs continue to get new ones for life.
To combat the lack of public awareness, the AAD and LEO Pharma, a global independent, research-based pharmaceutical company, has launched Listen To Your Skin, a campaign and interactive website designed to educate you about the prevalence of sun damage and the lesser-known signs, symptoms, and consequences of overexposure to the sun, including AK. Once you’ve learned how to protect your skin, you can sign up online to receive a free, super cool, sun care kit.
Lynette Summerill is an award-winning writer and Scuba enthusiast living in San Diego, CA with her husband and two beach loving dogs. In addition to writing about cancer-related issues for EmpowHER, her work has been seen in newspapers and magazines around the world.
Sources and Reader information
“What is Skin Cancer.” SkinCancerNet. American Academy of Dermatology. Accessed on 12 April 2012. http://www.skincarephysicians.com/skincancernet/whatis.html
All about Actinic Keratosis. American Academy of Dermatology. Accessed 17 April 2012 at:
Survey shows when it comes to skin health, beauty trumps sun safety.American Academy of Dermatology. Accessed 17 April 2012 at:
Listen to your skin campaign website. Accessed 17 April 17, 2012 at:
Actinic Keratosis: The most common precancer. Skin Cancer Foundation. Accessed 17 April 2012 at:
Reviewed April 25, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith