Rough Skin Patches On Your Face? What You Need To Know About Actinic Keratosis & Skin Cancer Checks

Posted on: 10 December 2021

If you have severely dry patches on your face or the back of your hand and can't seem to get any relief from the dryness by applying moisturizer, you should have a skin cancer check done by a licensed dermatologist. Rough, scaly, patches of dry skin on areas of the body that are exposed most to the sun can be actinic keratosis. Here's what you need to know and what to expect when having your skin checked for cancer. 

What Causes Actinic Keratosis?

By definition, actinic means relating chemical changes caused by the radiant energy of light, and keratosis means a growth on skin. Therefore, actinic keratosis means a growth of skin caused by sunlight. Typically, the exposure to ultraviolet rays is intense, such as experienced by farmers working out in the fields and by tanning bed enthusiasts indoors. 

Most people are aware of the fact that changes in moles on the skin is a warning sign of skin cancer; however, not very many people are aware that the dry skin patches called actinic keratosis can be a warning sign of precancerous cells and, therefore, need to be checked carefully. In fact, 10% of actinic keratoses become cancerous at some point, so it's a good idea to have your skin checked regularly for them if you are prone to developing them. Your dermatologist will determine a skin cancer check schedule based on your particular risk factors and the condition of your skin. 

What Does Actinic Keratosis Look Like?

The patches can be either red or tan in color. However, the patches are typically easier to feel than they are to see. The patches tend to feel like sandpaper. They can be sensitive, painful, prickly, burning, and sore. Since there are so many different ways actinic keratoses can appear and feel, it's important to get a clear and thorough understanding from your dermatologist on what to look for when you do your self-checks at home. That way, you know when to schedule an appointment for a skin cancer check via a biopsy by the dermatologist in order for treatment to begin as soon as possible. 

When Would a Biopsy Be Necessary?

When having your skin checked for cancer when you have persistent actinic keratosis, particularly if you have multiple patches (keratoses), your dermatologist will check your skin for the patches and take a biopsy of the patches if any are found. The biopsies will then get sent to the lab to determine whether or not the cells are precancerous or cancerous.  Early detection of cancer and precancerous cells by doing a biopsy is the best way to achieve good results in your treatment plan. 

What Are the Treatment Plans for Actinic Keratosis?

The results of the biopsy will help determine the type of treatment that you will need to undergo. Not all of the actinic keratoses need to be removed. However, all cancerous cells should be removed. Other treatments include the use of chemical peels, freezing the lesions off, or scraping the lesions off. Some non-cancerous and pre-cancerous lesions can be treated with medicated topical creams.

Regardless of which type of treatment(s) your dermatologist recommends, you will need to undergo regular skin cancer checks for the foreseeable future, again, based on your particular risk factors, the clinical appearance of your lesions, and the results of the biopsies you have done. You will still be asked to do self-checks at home. However, it's important to continue to have your skin checked by a dermatologist on their recommended schedule instead of solely relying on self-checks at home, particularly due to the various ways that actinic keratosis presents itself. For more information, contact a service like Advanced Dermatology of Northern California.