Actinic cheilitis is a form of cheilitis; and can develop into malignant squamous cell carcinoma. The condition is characterized by a thick whitish discoloration of the lip at the border of the lip and the skin. There’s a loss of the usually sharp border between the red of the lip and the normal skin.
The lip will become indurated and rough as the condition progresses. Actinic cheilitis is painless, stubborn, commoner in old males, and more common in those who have a light skin and a history of protracted sun exposure.
Actinic cheilitis usually develops on the lower lip. The skin is scaly, dry and chapped. Erosions and cracks may be present too.
What Causes Actinic Cheilitis?
The disorder, also called ‘farmer’s lip or ‘sailor’s lip’ is a pre-malignant state which develops because of undue exposure to the sun. The lower lip is most often afflicted. The lip feels persistently dry and is chapped and cracked. The person will also show other effects of sun damage, such as precancerous lesions on the skin and extensive wrinkling of the skin.
Actinic cheilitis develops when one is exposed to the sun for a long drawn out period of time. Excessive and chronic exposure to the sun’s UV rays is the chief cause. Supplementary factors may also play a part in its development, including lip irritation, too much use of tobacco, poor oral hygiene and ill-fitting dentures.
There is also a strong co-relation with tobacco use. Experts say that squamous cell carcinoma is known to develop in 6 – 10 % of cases of actinic cheilitis.
Prevention of the condition is exceedingly vital; and also once the condition develops it is crucial to ensure that it is treated optimally and on time to ward off the development of malignancy. Wear barrier clothing such as a wide-brimmed hat and scarfs, and use a lip balm which has sunscreen to prevent actinic cheilitis.
Treatment Options For Actinic Cheilitis
Actinic cheilitis is a precancerous condition because it could develop in to squamous cell carcinoma in approximately 10 % of the cases, timely and appropriate treatment is vital. It isn’t possible to forecast which cases will progress into squamous cell carcinoma, thus it is very essential that all cases should be treated suitably.
- Doctors recommend imiquimod, fluorouracil, chemical peel, vermillionectomy, electro-surgery and carbon dioxide laser vaporization. These therapies terminate or get rid of the damaged skin. All methods are associated with a fairly low recurrence rate.
- Electro-surgery and cryosurgery are effectual options for tiny areas of actinic cheilitis. In cryosurgery liquid nitrogen is applied in an open spraying technique. Local anesthesia is not needed. On the other hand, the treatment of the whole lip is rather painful. Cure rates of about 96 % have been reported. This therapy is by and large useful and advocated in tiny, focal areas of actinic cheilitis.
- Electro-surgery is another treatment option, but needs local anesthesia. With both therapies, the surrounding tissue may get slightly damaged and may interrupt the healing and promote scar formation.
- In severe cases of actinic cheilitis without indication of cancer, a lip shave procedure (vermilionectomy) is carried out.
- In less extreme cases, destruction (ablation) of the damaged cells with a carbon dioxide laser is usually advised by the doctors.