Letters to the Editor

Recognition and Treatment of Actinic Cheilitis


Am Fam Physician. 2008 Apr 15;77(8):1078-1079.

Original Article: Treatment Options for Actinic Keratoses

Issue Date: September 1, 2007

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

to the editor: The article in American Family Physician is a comprehensive review of the available therapeutic options for patients with actinic keratoses. Although the article illustrates useful recommendations for actinic keratoses, we would like to make some clarifications and suggest further treatments.

Actinic cheilitis is a clinical variant of actinic keratoses developing typically on the lower lip (the more sunexposed area), which has a greater risk of progression to invasive squamous cell carcinoma compared with normal skin.1 Early actinic, keratotic lesions of the lips may have a rough contour and/or appear slightly white (milky discoloration). More advanced lesions appear erythematous, thickened, and may show fissuring, scaliness, or ulcerations (Figure 1A) with loss of the vermilion border.1 Any suspicious thickened, ulcerated, or cryotherapy-resistant lesions should be biopsied first; we advise using the shave technique to avoid scarring.2

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Figure 1A.

Typical eroded lesion of actinic cheilitis at the lower lip with evident fissuring inflammation and mild scaliness.

Figure 1A.

Typical eroded lesion of actinic cheilitis at the lower lip with evident fissuring inflammation and mild scaliness.

Treatment options for actinic cheilitis include emollients, electrosurgery, cryotherapy (Figure 1B), 5-fluorouracil, photodynamic therapy, curettage, excision, lasers, and occasionally, radiotherapy. The use of a prophylactic sunscreen containing lip pomade slows the rate of development of solar lesions and protects the skin from further damage.2 Carbon dioxide laser treatment of actinic cheilitis is a highly effective option for extensive lesions and usually results in minimal recurrence with excellent cosmetic results.3

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Figure 1B

Cryotherapy treatment of a single lesion of actinic cheilitis.

Figure 1B

Cryotherapy treatment of a single lesion of actinic cheilitis.

Topical 5-fluorouracil is preferable for patients with multiple thin lesions, for whom the use of cryotherapy or other more aggressive treatments would cause unwanted aesthetic results.4 Photodynamic therapy using 5-aminolevulinic acid5 can lead to satisfactory outcomes. Other options include topical therapy with diclofenac 3% gel (Solaraze) or imiquimod 5% (Aldara). The optimal dose and duration of topical therapies, as well as their long-term effectiveness, need to be established in large prospective studies.

Author disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Figures 1A and 1B are courtesy of Dr. Antonios Panagiotopoulos, MD.



show all references

1. Habif TP. Clinical Dermatology: A Color Guide to Diagnosis and Therapy. 4th ed. St. Louis, Mo.: Mosby, Inc; 2004:738....

2. James WD, Berger TG, Elston DM. Andrew's Diseases of the Skin Clinical Dermatology, 10th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: W.B. Saunders Co; 2006:796.

3. Dufresne RG Jr, Curlin MU. Actinic cheilitis. A treatment review. Dermatol Surg. 1997;23(1):15–21.

4. White GM, Cox NH, eds. Diseases of the Skin: A Colour Atlas and Text. 1st ed. London: Mosby, 2000:291.

5. Kodama M, Watanabe D, Akita Y, Tamada Y, Matsumoto Y. Photodynamic therapy for the treatment of actinic cheilitis. Photodermatol Photoimmunol Photomed. 2007;23(5):209–10.

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This series is coordinated by Kenny Lin, MD, MPH, Associate Deputy Editor for AFP Online.



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