Letters to the Editor

Relation of Actinic Keratoses to Squamous or Basal Cell Carcinoma

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Am Fam Physician. 2008 Nov 1;78(9) Online.

Original Article: Treatment Options for Actinic Keratoses

Issue Date: September 1, 2007

Available at: http://www.aafp.org/afp/20070901/667.html

to the editor: The article about actinic keratoses is somewhat misleading. It leaves one with the impression that actinic keratoses most commonly evolves into squamous cell carcinoma. Actually, based on my personal experience during 45 years of practice, basal cell carcinoma is at least 10 times more likely to result from actinic keratoses of the face or ears (squamous cell carcinoma of the lower lip is almost always found in cigarette smokers).

Author disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

in reply: Basal cell carcinomas, squamous cell carcinomas, and actinic keratoses share common risk factors, such as age, sex, location of residency, occupation (indoor versus outdoor), and propensity to sunburn.1 Dr. Pentecost makes an excellent clinical point that an actinic keratosis lesion often overlies a basal carcinoma lesion.2,3

In addition, basal cell carcinomas are a far more common form of nonmelanoma skin cancer than squamous cell carcinomas (80 versus 19 percent, respectively). However, actinic keratosis lesions do not appear to be a precursor to basal cell carcinomas. In a study of 6,000 Australians, a preexisting actinic ker-atosis was a predictive factor for squamous cell carcinomas and basal cell carcinomas. Coexisting actinic keratosis lesions were found in all but one of the 38 patients with squamous cell carcinomas; however, coexisting actinic keratoses were found in 76 of the 124 persons with basal cell carcinomas. This demonstrates that basal cell carcinomas do not require a co-existing actinic keratosis lesion to develop.

Author disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


1. Marks R , Rennie G , Selwood T . The relationship of basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas to solar keratosis. Arch Dermatol. 1998;124(7):1039–1042.

2. Sambandan PG , Goldman GD . Infiltrative basal cell carcinomas presenting as actinic keratosis: implications for clinical practice. Dermatol Surg. 2008;34(1):9–13.

3. Jacobs RJ , Phillips G . Basal cell carcinoma mistaken for actinic keratosis. Clin Exp Optom. 2006;89(3):171–175.

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