Treatments and drugs

By Mayo Clinic Staff

An actinic keratosis sometimes resolves on its own, but typically returns again after additional sun exposure. Because it's impossible to tell exactly which patches or lesions will develop into skin cancer, actinic keratoses are usually removed as a precaution.

Medications

If you have several actinic keratoses, you may be better served by treating the entire affected area. Prescription products that can be applied to your skin for this purpose include:

  • Fluorouracil cream (Carac, Fluoroplex, Efudex)
  • Imiquimod cream (Aldara, Zyclara)
  • Ingenol mebutate gel (Picato)
  • Diclofenac gel (Voltaren, Solaraze)

Therapy

In photodynamic therapy, a medicine that makes your damaged skin cells sensitive to light (photosensitizing agent) is applied to the affected skin. Your skin is then exposed to intense laser light to destroy the damaged skin cells. Side effects may include redness, swelling and a burning sensation during therapy.

Surgical and other procedures

If you have only a few actinic keratoses, your doctor may recommend individual removal. The most common methods include:

  • Freezing (cryotherapy). An extremely cold substance, such as liquid nitrogen, is applied to skin lesions. The substance freezes the skin surface, causing blistering or peeling. As your skin heals, the lesions slough off, allowing new skin to appear. Cryotherapy is the most common treatment; it takes only a few minutes and can be performed in your doctor's office. Side effects may include blisters, scarring, changes to skin texture, infection and darkening of the skin at the site of treatment.
  • Scraping (curettage). In this procedure, your surgeon uses a device called a curet to scrape off damaged cells. Scraping may be followed by electrosurgery, in which a pencil-shaped instrument is used to cut and destroy the affected tissue with an electric current. This procedure requires a local anesthetic. Side effects may include infection, scarring and changes in skin coloration at the site of treatment.
Feb. 08, 2014

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