Actinic Keratosis



AK is caused by damage from the sun or indoor tanning machines.

Risk Factors

AK is more common in older adults. It is also more common in men. Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • Fair skin color
  • Living in sunny places
  • Having a weak immune system, such as from an organ transplant
  • Having xeroderma pigmentosum—a rare genetic disorder that causes increased sensitivity to the sun's rays
  • Having chronic lymphocytic leukemia—a cancer of the blood and bone marrow



A person may have a rough, scaly, or crusted patch of skin.


The doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done.

A biopsy may be done. The skin will be checked for cancer in a lab.



Treatment depends on whether the AK is mild or severe. A mild AK may be watched to check for changes over time. A severe AK may be treated to lower the risk of skin cancer. This may be done with:

  • Cryosurgery
  • Surgery
  • Medicine put on the skin over time to remove the AK
  • Photodynamic therapy (may be done with laser treatment)


To lower the chance of getting AK:

  • Limit time in the sun.
  • Wear clothing to cover skin that is exposed to the sun.
  • Do not use indoor tanning machines.
  • Use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.