Cryotherapy for Actinic Keratosis

Cryotherapy for Actinic Keratosis
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Cryotherapy for actinic keratosis is a procedure used to kill keratinocytes. This procedure is done with the intention of completely eradicating actinic keratoses.

What is Actinic Keratosis?

This condition is a skin lesion. This lesion appears as a scaly, rough patch on the lips, face, back of the hands, ears, forearms, neck, and scalp. This condition is caused by intense or frequent exposure to ultraviolet rays, usually from the sun. This condition is often considered a precancerous condition because it can become skin cancer.

Symptoms of Actinic Keratosis

The skin lesion is really the only symptom of this condition. The lesions are typically one inch in diameter, a flat or slightly raised bump or patch, flesh-colored or the color could range from pink to red to brown, and the affected area may burn or itch.

Diagnosing Actinic Keratosis

Diagnosing actinic keratosis is typically done by simply inspecting the lesions. If the doctor has any doubt, they will recommend further testing, such as a biopsy of the lesion. The doctor can most often do the biopsy in his or her office with a local anesthetic.

Treating Actinic Keratosis

When these lesions are treated early, almost all of them can be eradicated before they become skin cancer. If they are left untreated, they can turn into a serious type of skin cancer, known as squamous cell carcinoma.

Because there is no way to tell whether these lesions will become skin cancer, they are usually removed as a precaution. There are several treatment options that can be used to remove the lesions, including cryotherapy, chemical peeling, photodynamic therapy, dermabrasion, ointments or creams, curettage, and laser therapy.

Cryotherapy for actinic keratosis involves killing the lesions by freezing them. This treatment method uses liquid nitrogen, or another extremely cold substance, and applies it to the skin. This results in peeling or blistering because it freezes the surface of the skin. The lesions will slough off as the skin heals, allowing new skin to arise. This procedure only takes a few minutes, it can be done in a doctor’s office, and it is the most common treatment for actinic keratosis.

Certain ointments and creams that contain a chemotherapy drug known as fluorouacil, blocks essential cellular functions in actinic keratosis cells, resulting in the destruction of the cells.

Chemical peels eradicate the lesions by causing the skin to blister and peel so that new skin can form. One or more chemical solutions is used in this procedure.

Curettage, also referred to as scraping, is a procedure in which damaged cells are scraped off with a curet. In some cases, electrosurgery is used after scraping to incise and destroy any affected tissue.

Photodynamic therapy involves using a photosensitizing agent and applying it topically or injecting it into the skin. Once the skin cells become sensitive to light the skin cells will be destroyed by exposing it to an intense laser light.

Laser therapy removes the lesions and the skin under them. Scarring or loss of pigment may be present after this procedure.

Dermabrasion involves removing the affected skin using a brush that moves rapidly. A local anesthetic is used to help alleviate any potential discomfort or pain.


Mayo Clinic. (2009). Actinic Keratosis. Retrieved on February 24, 2010 from the Mayo Clinic:

Image Credits

Actinic Keratosis on the Lip: World Journal of Surgical Oncology – Wikimedia Commons