Actinic keratosis (AK) are often described as a pre-cancer. AK are not malignant, and cannot spread to other parts of the body like cancer can, but can later change into cancer. At this time, it is unfortunately impossible to accurately predict which AK lesions are capable of changing into cancerous lesions. A lesion that has turned red or tender may be a sign that it is in the process of becoming cancerous.
While the process of malignant transformation into cancer is not yet well understood, we do know that the patients who are immunosuppressed due to medication, ailments such as AIDS, or transplantation are at a much higher risk of both developing actinic keratosis, and for the AKs to turn into skin cancer. It appears that the body has, to a certain extent, the ability to fight off malignancy when the immune system is healthy and strong.
Although cancer is a very serious illness, and conjures morbid images in many, there is a lot of good news:
Almost all cases of actinic keratoses can be successfully and safely treated without any complications.
Relatively few cases of actinic keratosis eventually end up becoming cancerous. In some cases, the AK lesions regress naturally without any medical treatment.
The cancers that develop from actinic keratoses are called squamous cell carcinomas. While they have a small chance of spreading to internal organs where it can become deadly, the chances of this occurring is relatively small, and this cancer can be treated with relative ease.
In addition to the relatively low risk of AKs actually becoming cancer, skin cancer has the highest rate of cure when found at an early stage.
This means that as long as patients take care of themselves, visit a doctor, and protect themselves from further sun damage, it is extremely unlikely that the AK will end up becoming the cause of a cancer that can kill.
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