What is Actinic Keratosis?
Actinic Keratosis (AKs) are scaly, dry patches on the skin caused by excessive exposure to sunlight. They are referred to as “sun spots” and they can occur most frequently on sun exposed areas such as the scalp, ears, face, neck, arms and hands. AKs grow on the outer layer of skin and can be skin toned to reddish brown in color. They also range in size from as small as a pinhead to larger than a quarter. Millions of Americans have AK lesions, and they are most common in fair skinned individuals.
Who gets AKs?
AKs develop as the result of years of sun exposure. The more sun you have been exposed to, the more likely you are to have AKs. Risk factors include: fair skin, blonde or red hair, tendencies towards freckling, and a weakened immune system.
Why is it important to treat AKs?
AKs are considered to be the first step in the development of skin cancer, i.e. they are “pre-cancers.” They can progress to malignancies such as squamous cell carcinoma which is generally not life threatening if detected and treated early. In almost all cases, when AKs and all types of skin cancers are detected early, they are treatable and curable. That is why it is so important for individuals with AKs to be under a dermatologist’s care. Frequent skin examinations are the key to early detection.
What is the treatment for AKs?
There are a variety of treatments for AK’s, including a freezing agent and topical chemotherapeutic agents.
Levulan Photodynamic Therapy is an advanced 2-step treatment for Grade 1 or 2 AKs of the face or scalp. A Grade 1 AK appears as a flat, pink blemish, and a grade 2 AK is moderately thick and easier to see and feel. This treatment consists of Levulan Kerastick Topical Solutions, 20% and the Blue-U Blue Light Photodynamic Therapy Illuminator, which is unique because it uses a light activated drug therapy to destroy AKs.
When Levulan Kerastick Topical Solution is applied to AKs, the solution is absorbed by the AK cells and is then changed to a chemical that makes these cells very sensitive to light. Then, as the AK cells are exposed to the Blu-U light, a reaction is set in motion which destroys the AK cells.
The Levulan PDT Procedure
The Levulan Kerastick Topical Solutions is applied to the affected areas (e.g. the face and scalp) by Dr. Atkins. Once the solution is applied to the AKs, you will be directed to wait the recommended time in order to allow the solution to interact with the target cells. After this period of time, you will undergo a blue light treatment.
The BLU-U Light Treatment
The Blu-U light does not heat the skin, but, during your time under the light, you may feel sensations of tingling, stinging, prickling or slight burning. The sensations will, however, subside after the light is turned off. After the treatment, the area of AKs may become reddened and slightly tender, but this improves as the days go by.
After the Treatment
It is important to avoid sun exposure for about 48 hours as the skin remains photosensitive. Wear a large-brimmed hat if it is necessary for you to be outside, and remember that sunscreens will not protect against photosensitivity reactions caused by sunlight.
The most common side effects include scaling/crusting, hypo/hyper-pigmentation, itching, stinging, and/or burning, erythema and edema.