American Journal of Clinical Dermatology

, Volume 19, Issue 4, pp 543–557 | Cite as

Field Cancerization Therapies for Management of Actinic Keratosis: A Narrative Review

  • Nathan Jetter
  • Neha Chandan
  • Stephanie Wang
  • Maria TsoukasEmail author
Review Article


Actinic keratoses (AKs) are atypical, precancerous proliferations of keratinocytes that develop because of chronic exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Treatment of AK can be lesion-directed or field-directed. Field cancerization theory postulates that the skin surrounding AK is also at increased risk for possible malignant transformation since it has been exposed to the same chronic UV light. Field-directed therapies thus have the potential to address subclinical damage, reduce AK recurrence rates, and potentially reduce the risk of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) development. Published clinical studies have found lesion clearance rates ranging from 81 to 91% for photodynamic therapy (PDT) with either aminolevulinic acid (ALA) or methylaminolevulinate (MAL). Clinical studies have also been published on various topical treatments. Complete clinical clearance (CCC) was significantly higher in patients treated with a combination of 5-fluorouracil and salicylic acid (5-FU–SA) than in the vehicle group across multiple studies, and CCC ranged between 46 and 48% following treatment with imiquimod. Additionally, treatment with diclofenac sodium (DFS) found reduction in lesion sizes to range from 67 to 75%. Reported results have been similar for another non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), piroxicam, which has more cyclooxygenase (COX)-1 activity than DFS. Active treatments with ingenol mebutate were also significantly more effective than vehicle at clearing AK lesions. All treatments resulted in mild, localized skin reactions. PDT using conventional light sources was associated with increased severity of pain and/or discomfort, while PDT using daylight as the light source was associated with less pain and occasionally no pain at all. Though no widely accepted algorithm for the treatment of AKs exists, field-directed therapy can be particularly useful for treating photo-exposed areas containing multiple AKs. Additional research with more direct comparisons between these field-directed therapies will help clinicians determine the best therapeutic approach. Here, we provide a balanced and comprehensive narrative review of the literature, considering both light-based and topical therapies with a focus on their field-therapy aspects, and propose a therapeutic algorithm for selecting an appropriate treatment in the clinical setting.


Compliance with Ethical Standards


This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.

Conflict of interest

Nathan Jetter, Neha Chandan, Stephanie Wang, and Maria Tsoukas have no potential conflicts of interest related to this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nathan Jetter
    • 1
  • Neha Chandan
    • 1
  • Stephanie Wang
    • 2
  • Maria Tsoukas
    • 2
    Email author
  1. 1.University of Illinois College of MedicineChicagoUSA
  2. 2.Department of DermatologyUniversity of Illinois College of MedicineChicagoUSA

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