Does Keratosis Always Grow into Cancer?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Keratosis is sometimes called a pre-cancerous condition, and large bumps are often removed by using a laser.
Keratosis is sometimes called a pre-cancerous condition, and large bumps are often removed by using a laser.

The term keratosis applies to several conditions of the skin which causes bumps, wartlike sores, or flat or raised skin discolorations. Three of the most common types are actinic or solar keratosis, keratosis pilaris, and sebhorreic keratosis. Only actinic keratosis is indicated in the development of skin cancer, as it can cause squamous cell skin cancer. This form of cancer should be removed, but does not tend to progress to other parts of the body like malignant melanoma does.

People with keratosis should visit a dermatologist regularly.
People with keratosis should visit a dermatologist regularly.

Actinic keratosis is sometimes called a pre-cancerous condition. It usually presents in people over 30, and is more common among those with fair skin, and those who are outdoors a great deal without using proper sunblocking agents. The growths look thick, and may also have a crusty or scaly exterior.

Usually, this condition is diagnosed through an examination of the bumps. The diagnosis may be confirmed by taking a skin scraping to rule out squamous cell cancer. Often, large bumps are removed through either laser removal, or cryotherapy, which freezes off the lesions.

Keratosis pilaris may appear as red bumps on the skin.
Keratosis pilaris may appear as red bumps on the skin.

People with this form of keratosis do need to follow-up with regular visits to a dermatologist, who will watch any bumps not removed for changes indicating squamous cell skin cancer. However, actinic keratosis is typically removed early enough to not result in any form of cancer, and some spots will never evolve into cancer.

Sebhorreic keratosis is completely benign, and appears as small pink to brown colored warts. Few complications are associated with this form, though picking a spot may cause cellulitis. The spots are not usually painful, so pain might be an indication of a different diagnosis or infection. Removal can be undertaken if desired by the patient, but is not necessary, as this form does not progress to cancer.

Actinic keratosis is more common among people with fair skin.
Actinic keratosis is more common among people with fair skin.

Keratosis pilaris may appear as red bumps on the skin, rough skin or bumpy skin. It also has no established ties to cancer. It may be misdiagnosed as pimples or as eczema. There is no treatment to cure the condition, which is quite common. However, those with this form may find that exfoliation and moisturizing helps to smooth the skin. Often, it occurs in young children and resolves by middle age. Children may scratch the bumps, increasing risk for infection, but irritation and complications are uncommon.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent TheHealthBoard contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent TheHealthBoard contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

starrynight

@strawCake - I'm always amazed how many people choose not to wear sunscreen in this day and age. And don't even get me started about people who use tanning beds!

Unfortunately it doesn't sound like staying out of the sun will protect you from sebhorreic keratosis or keratosis pilaris but only from actinic keratosis.

strawCake

@anon92656 - It sounds like actinic keratoses is the only kind that is precancerous. The other kinds don't sound too pleasant either though! So many good reasons to wear sunscreen!

anon92656

has anyone ever heard of keratosis legions turning in malignant cancer?

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    • Keratosis is sometimes called a pre-cancerous condition, and large bumps are often removed by using a laser.
      By: mkrberlin
      Keratosis is sometimes called a pre-cancerous condition, and large bumps are often removed by using a laser.
    • People with keratosis should visit a dermatologist regularly.
      By: michaeljung
      People with keratosis should visit a dermatologist regularly.
    • Keratosis pilaris may appear as red bumps on the skin.
      By: Lovrencg
      Keratosis pilaris may appear as red bumps on the skin.
    • Actinic keratosis is more common among people with fair skin.
      By: Laurent Hamels
      Actinic keratosis is more common among people with fair skin.