Harvard Health Letter

New attack on precancerous patches

58 million of us have actinic keratoses. Now treatment is easier.

They look minor. They are usually pea-sized rough patches, often scaly and with surrounding redness, on sun-exposed skin. But actinic keratoses (AK), caused by too much sun exposure, are nothing to dismiss. "They can progress to skin cancer, or there can be so many that it's difficult to pick out lesions that are already skin cancers," says Dr. Suzanne Olbricht, associate professor of dermatology at Harvard Medical School.

Usual treatment of AK involves freezing them, scraping them, using chemical peels, or applying medicated creams for weeks. But those treatments can be inconvenient, and they may cause redness, soreness, body aches, scabs, and swelling. Luckily, new treatments are easier, and winter is a good time to attack, since too much sunlight can worsen treatment side effects.

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