Also known as solar keratosis, actinic keratosis affects more than 10 million Americans. These precancerous growths on the skin are caused by overexposure to the sun over a long period of time. They are characterized by rough dry lesions or patches that appear on sun-exposed areas of the skin, such as the face, back of hands, arms, scalp or shoulders. The lesions may be red, pink, gray or skin colored. Lesions often begin as flat, scaly areas and develop into a rough-textured surface. Sometimes it is easier to feel a growth than it is to see it.
Actinic keratosis is more common among fair-skinned people and those who have had years of outdoor or tanning bed exposure to ultraviolet light. Actinic keratosis can develop into malignant cells, typically squamous cell carcinoma, which is a type of skin cancer. That’s why treatment isimportant. After a physical examination and biopsy of the lesion, your dermatologist will opt for one of the following treatments to remove the growth:
- Cryosurgery, which freezes off the growth using liquid nitrogen.
- Surgical removal in which the doctor scrapes off the lesion and bleeding is stopped by electrocautery.
- Chemical peels that cause the top layer of skin to peel off.
- Photodynamic therapy in which a dye is applied that sensitizes the skin to light and the area is then exposed to light via a laser or other light source.
- Topical Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS) that cause a slow inflammation and peeling; used in more superficial cases.
- Topical Chemotherapeutic agents (5 Fluorouracil, Aldara) can also be used.
Warts are small, harmless growths that appear most frequently on the hands and feet. Sometimes they look flat and smooth, other times they have a dome-shaped or cauliflower-like appearance. Warts can be surrounded by skin that is either lighter or darker. Warts are caused by different forms of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). They occur in people of all ages and can spread from person-to-person and from one part of the body to another. Warts are benign (noncancerous) and generally painless. They may disappear without any treatment. However, in most cases eliminating warts takes time.
The location of a wart often characterizes its type:
Common warts can appear anywhere on the body, although they most often appear on the back of fingers, toes and knees. These skin-colored, dome-shaped lesions usually grow where the skin has been broken, such as a scratch or bug bite. They can range in size from a pinhead to 10mm and may appear singly or in multiples.
Filiform warts look like a long, narrow, flesh-colored stalk that appears singly or in multiples around the eyelids, face, neck or lips. They are sometimes called facial warts. They may cause itching or bleeding, but are easy to treat with over-the-counter medications.
Flat (plane) warts appear on the face and forehead. They are flesh-colored or white, with a slightly raised, flat surface and they usually appear in multiples. Flat warts are more common among children and teens than adults.
Genital warts appear around the genital and pubic areas. It is also possible to get genital warts inside the vagina and anal canal or in the mouth (known as oral warts). The lesions start small and soft but can become quite large. They often grow in clusters. They are both sexually transmitted and highly contagious. In fact, it is recommended you generally avoid sex with anyone who has a visible genital wart. Genital warts should always be treated by a physician.
Plantar warts appear on the soles of the feet and can be painful since they are on weight-bearing surfaces. They have a rough, cauliflower-like appearance and may have a small black speck in them. They often appear in multiples and may combine into a larger wart called a mosaic wart. Plantar warts can spread rapidly.
Subungual and periungual warts appear as rough growths around the fingernails and/or toenails. They start as nearly undetectable, pin-sized lesions and grow to pea-sized with rough, irregular bumps with uneven borders. Subungual and periungual warts can impede healthy nail growth. Because of their location, they are difficult to treat and generally require medical attention.
Most warts respond to over-the-counter treatments, including:
- Cryotherapy, which freezes off the wart using liquid nitrogen or nitrous oxide.
- Electrosurgery, which sends an electric current through the wart to kill the tissue.
- Laser surgery, which essentially heat up the wart until the tissue dies and the wart eventually falls off.
- Nonprescription freezing products (dimethyl ether), aerosol sprays that freeze the warts and cause them to die off.
- Salicylic acid preparations, which dissolve the protein (keratin) that makes up the wart and the thick layer of skin that covers it. It comes in gels, pads, drops and plasters and takes 4 to 6 weeks to eradicate the warts.
If self-treatments don’t work after a period of about 4 to 12 weeks, contact our dermatologist. We’ll assess your warts and recommend the best option.
Always contact the dermatologist if a wart is causing pain, changes in color or appearance and for all genital warts.