Actinic Keratosis Vs. Seborrheic Keratosis

medical examination
A dermatologist examines a dark spot on a female patient's back. (Image: Igor Gratzer/iStock/Getty Images)

The appearance of skin growths or lesions can be frightening because they may look like skin cancer. Not all skin problems are cancerous, however. Some, such as seborrheic keratosis, are benign. Even the precancerous skin lesions, such as actinic keratosis, can be treated before they progress to cancer.

Seborrheic Keratosis

Seborrheic keratosis causes a growths to appear on the neck, face and trunk, the Mayo Clinic explains. These growths can be black, brown, yellow or tan. The growths are often round or oval shaped and are flat or slightly raised from the skin. The lesions of seborrheic keratosis are marked by a characteristic "pasted-on" appearance and may be itchy.

Actinic Keratosis

Actinic keratosis, according to Skin Care Physicians, leads to skin growths and lesions that are dry and scratchy or scaly in appearance. Sometimes theses growths are skin colored, which can make them hard to see. In other cases, these lesions form small red bumps or larger scaly patches of skin. These skin lesions typically occur in places that are exposed to the sun.

Causes

Actinic keratosis is caused by sun exposure. Sunlight contains ultraviolet light, which is able to damage the DNA of skin cells, leading to mutations that can cause them to grow abnormally. The area around actinic keratoses, according to Skin Care Physicians, often shows signs of sun damage. The cause of seborrheic keratosis, on the other hand, is unknown.

Complications and Diagnosis

Seborrheic dermatosis rarely causes any serious medical problems, but the growths can be cosmetically undesirable or become inflamed. Actinic keratosis, on the other hand, often progresses to skin cancer. These two skin problems can often be differentiated based on the appearance of the lesions, MedlinePlus explains, although a skin biopsy may be needed to definitive diagnosis the skin problems.

Treatment

Both types of keratosis can be treated using surgical curettage, in which a sharp tool is used to cut away the skin growth. They can also be treated using liquid nitrogen or an electrical current to freeze or burn away the growths. Actinic keratosis can also be treated using microdermabrasion, chemical peels or phototherapy.

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