Beating Sun Damage With Ice: Liquid Nitrogen Treatment For Actinic Keratosis

  • Dermatology
  • dermatology - Skin Care
  • May 26, 2023

Actinic keratosis is a precancerous condition. Cryosurgery, using liquid nitrogen, is an effective way to treat the skin problem.

Effectively Treating Actinic Keratosis

Actinic keratosis (AK) is a precancerous skin condition that requires a thorough skin exam to ensure that melanomas don’t develop or progress further. The diagnosis usually only occurs after extensive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. Whether from direct exposure to the sun or excessive time spent using tanning beds, the results are still the same. People with AK often have skin that feels rough and scaly with discoloration and possibly even bumps or horn-like growths. A common option for treating the condition is cryosurgery which uses liquid nitrogen.

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Freezing away AK

Cryosurgery is a procedure that typically relies on an extremely cold liquid to effectively freeze and destroy damaged or abnormal tissues. The liquid may be 1 of several options, including liquid nitrous oxide, liquid nitrogen, or compressed argon gas. The procedure is very popular for treating cancer and precancerous conditions, including actinic keratosis. Other names for the process are cryoablation and cryotherapy.

Risk factors

Any individual can develop AK, but some factors can increase a person’s risk. Along with excessive UV light exposure, other common concerns include having blonde or red hair, light-colored eyes, living in areas that get a lot of sunlight, working outdoors, or having a weakened immune system. Additionally, people over the age of 40, as well as individuals that tend to burn or freckle easily after sun exposure, may also have a heightened risk.

Diagnosing AK

The first step in confirming if a person has AK is a trip to the dermatologist. This specialist will perform a skin exam, and if necessary, a skin biopsy may be recommended. The procedure takes a tissue sample for further review. If AK is confirmed, a few treatment options might be recommended.

Time for treatment

For some people, AK can be resolved without needing cryosurgery. Individuals may be prescribed topical creams or gels to treat the affected area. However, in most cases, the growths will be removed as a preventative measure to avoid the risk of the damaged skin becoming cancerous. Cryotherapy with liquid nitrogen tends to be the most popular option and can be performed in a dermatologist’s office. Other surgical options include scraping, laser therapy, and photodynamic therapy, which leverages a light-sensitive chemical solution that destroys AK when exposed to a special light.

Preventative care is best

While most AK cases can be treated before the skin growths become cancerous, a preventative approach that starts before the dermatologist’s office is the best option. People should avoid prolonged UV light exposure. At a minimum, remember to apply sunscreen often when outside. Avoid direct sunlight during the middle of the day when UV light is most intense, and steer clear of artificial tanning beds as much as possible.

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