Treatment considerations in actinic keratosis

J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2017 Mar:31 Suppl 2:12-16. doi: 10.1111/jdv.14152.


The chronic skin condition actinic keratosis (AK) is characterized by the formation of keratotic lesions of variable thickness that are poorly delimited. AK occurs on areas of the skin that have had long-term exposure to the sun or UV radiation. Although AKs may regress, they usually persist and can progress to squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). Clinicians are unable to predict which AKs will progress; therefore, both clinically visible lesions and subclinical, non-visible (i.e. the entire area affected by AK/field cancerization) should be treated. AK treatment options include lesion-directed therapies that target specific AK lesions and field-directed therapies that target multiple clinical lesions and the underlying field damage. This article reviews currently available treatment options in AK, with a focus on patient-applied field therapies, and their suitability according to specific disease characteristics and patient needs. Choice of treatment in AK depends on lesion-, patient- and treatment-related factors and should be individualized. Considerations when choosing a therapy include site of application, treatment duration, surface area of application, tolerability profiles and implications on adherence. Field-directed therapies treat clinical and subclinical damage (i.e. the entire area affected by AK), achieve high rates of sustained clearance of AKs and may reduce the risk of progression to SCC. There is a clear need for field therapies with short duration of treatment and predictable, short-lived, mild local skin reactions that can be used over a large surface area. Therapies with shorter and simpler treatment courses are often associated with better adherence than treatments with longer courses. These may, therefore, represent more appropriate choices in patients for whom convenience and/or adherence are an issue.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / administration & dosage
  • Antineoplastic Agents / adverse effects
  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Asymptomatic Diseases / therapy*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / prevention & control*
  • Cryotherapy
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Humans
  • Keratosis, Actinic / therapy*
  • Medication Adherence
  • Skin Neoplasms / prevention & control*


  • Antineoplastic Agents