Senior Care Blog Wayland and Weston

Actinic Keratosis – A Warning Sign for Cancer

By Denise Roskamp

When your parents were young, there may have been little thought given to how much time they spent out in the sun unprotected. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1970s that sunscreens designed to block out ultraviolet (UV) rays were introduced. As a result, your parent may have skin damage due to sun exposure. Sometimes that damage shows up as an actinic keratosis, a precancerous condition that affects 58 million Americans. Being able to recognize an actinic keratosis allows you to get your parent treatment before the condition moves from precancerous to cancerous.

Causes and Risk Factors
An actinic keratosis is sometimes called solar keratosis because it is caused by too much exposure to the sun’s rays over time. You may see the condition referred to using the plural of keratosis, which is keratoses, because there is usually more than one keratosis present.

Although anyone can develop an actinic keratosis, there are certain things that increase the risk. Risk factors for an actinic keratosis are:

  • Living where the weather is usually sunny.
  • Being over the age of 40.
  • Being fair-skinned and light-haired.
  • History of getting sunburned often or being exposed to the sun frequently.
  • Sunburn easily.
  • Weakened immune system.

Recognizing an Actinic Keratosis

The most common places for an actinic keratosis to appear are the face, ears, lips, scalp, neck, and forearms. That’s because those are the areas of the body that are most often exposed to the sun. The signs of an actinic keratosis include:

  • A small (usually less than an inch in diameter) patch of skin that feels rough, dry, and scaly.
  • The color of an actinic keratosis varies may be pink, red, or brown.
  • Feeling itchy or experiencing a burning sensation in the area.
  • The surface may be flat, slightly raised, or feel like a bump in the skin.
  • Sometimes an actinic keratosis will look like a wart.

Minimizing Your Parent’s Skin Cancer Risk

When an actinic keratosis is treated early, it can be removed, preventing it from turning into skin cancer. In addition to having actinic keratoses removed, you and your parent’s senior care provider can also help your parent to prevent skin cancer by following these guidelines recommended by the Skin Cancer Foundation:

  • Use Sunscreen: Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Also, look for a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. If your parent has difficulty applying sunscreen, a senior care provider can help them to apply it. Apply the sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside and reapply it every two hours.
  • Stay in the Shade: If your parent enjoys sitting outside on sunny days, family caregivers and senior care providers should set them up in a shady area of the yard where they are less likely to sunburn. Even when your parent is sitting in the shade, they should still wear sunscreen.
  • Get Skin Checked: You or your parent’s senior care provider should check the skin on you parent’s body every month to look for any changes or abnormalities. Have any suspicious
    areas looked at by a doctor. A doctor should perform a skin examine once a year.
  • Cover Up: Your parent should wear clothing to protect them from the sun when they are outside, like long sleeved shirts and wide brimmed hats.

Being mindful of a precancerous condition like an actinic keratosis can help you to prevent skin cancer in your parent. Make sure you report any unusual spots or patches on your parent’s skin to their doctor. Early treatment and removal of an actinic keratosis is the key to avoiding the condition from becoming cancerous.