Skin cancer can be deadly, but in its early stages, it’s highly treatable. Actinic keratosis (AK) is one of the early warning signs that skin cancer may be in your future.
Dr. Robert Topham at Holladay Dermatology & Aesthetics in Holladay, Utah, has extensive experience diagnosing and treating all types of skin cancer and uses the most advanced technology to irradicate the damaged cells before they invade other tissues. Here, he explains how photodynamic therapy prevents cancer by getting rid of AKs.
AKs take on various forms, so spotting them can be tricky. They’re typically small, scaly skin patches that tend to feel dry or crusty. AKs come in several colors, including tan, brown, pink, white, red, and combinations of those colors. Because the color of your AKs may blend in with your skin tone, you may discover one by feel rather than sight.
Look for AKs wherever your skin gets the most sun exposure: your face, arms, legs, neck, and scalp. If you find one — or a few — come see Dr. Topham right away. Although only 5% to 10% of AKs develop into cancer, just about all squamous cell carcinomas can be traced back to AKs, so it’s worth checking out.
How photodynamic therapy treats AKs
Photodynamic therapy works by saturating your precancerous cells with a medication that absorbs light. When the light is applied, the energy destroys the cells.
Dr. Tophams starts by preparing your skin for treatment. He cleans it thoroughly and removes any scabs or crusty lesions.
He then applies a thin layer of the topical medication called Ameluz® (aminolevulinic acid hydrochloride gel, 10%). We cover your skin to prevent ambient or sunlight from kick-starting the reaction too soon.
About three hours later, we remove the dressing and illuminate your treated skin with a special BF-RhodoLED® lamp that emits red light wavelengths. At 635 nanometers, these wavelengths penetrate your skin, target the photosensitizing medication within the precancerous cells, and activate it.
It only takes about 10 minutes or so, depending on the size of the treatment location and the number of AKs being treated. You may feel some discomfort and/or a burning sensation during the treatment and for a few days following. Itching, inflammation, blistering, and crusting are also common reactions, but these symptoms typically subside in 1-4 days.
Two weeks later, your AKs will have crusted and fallen off, leaving you with smooth, cancer-free skin. About 60% of our patients need only one photodynamic therapy to clear away their AKs, and 90% of those who required a second treatment eradicated their AKs completely, as well.
If you suspect you have an AK, act now. Photodynamic therapy can wipe away those precancerous cells and prevent full-fledged cancer from developing. Contact us by phone or online to schedule an appointment with Dr. Topham.