What is Porokeratosis?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 17 September 2018
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Porokeratosis is an uncommon type of skin condition characterized by scaly, discolored, dry specks or patches on certain parts of the body. Most cases are related to genetic disorders and present in childhood, though some people develop symptoms later in life due to ultraviolet radiation, excess sun exposure, or unidentified causes. The condition does not usually cause major health problems, though there are increased risks of developing skin cancer if multiple lesions are present on the body. People can lower their risks by protecting their skin, using topical medications, and keeping frequent appointments with their dermatologists to track any changes in their skin.

Most forms of this condition are inherited in an autosomal dominant pattern. A child is susceptible if one of his or her parents carries a particular genetic mutation. Researchers have not yet identified the specific genes, though studies are ongoing to better understand the genetics involved. Occasionally, a middle-aged or elderly person can develop the condition on sun-exposed areas of skin. Exposure to medical radiation and artificial ultraviolet light, such as the type used in tanning beds, is also correlated with porokeratosis.


The symptoms can vary widely. Some people develop very small, raised, ring-shaped lesions that are tinted red or brown. Others have larger light-colored patches on their arms, legs, hands, or feet. It is possible to have a single lesion or multiple abnormal spots on the body. Lesions typically do not change in size and shape over time, and any changes that do occur can be signs of developing skin cancer.

Skin carcinomas that arise due to porokeratosis are usually characterized by hard, scaly, dark-colored lesions. As a malignancy grows and spreads, a person may develop other symptoms, such as fatigue and fever. Early recognition and treatment of cancerous lesions is essential to prevent metastasis and life-threatening complications.

Noncancerous porokeratosis does not normally require aggressive treatment. Doctors typically suggest that their patients attend checkups at least once a year to check for signs of abnormal growth. It is important for patients to wear sunscreen and protective clothing when going outdoors regardless of the weather, and to avoid artificial radiation exposure to the best of their abilities. Topical creams, such as fluorouracil, are occasionally prescribed to improve the appearance of porokeratosis lesions, but this type of treatment only rarely leads to complete remission. If the condition becomes malignant, a combination of surgery and chemotherapy may be necessary to reduce the risks of further health problems.


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Post 4

Not sure how old this thread is, but I am a black person with dark skin, have nothing to do with tanning, a white collar job, little exposure to sun, and yet I developed the condition over five years ago. It happens only on the exposed part of my body, actually everywhere above the neck. Some of the lesions come and heal completely after about a year, regardless of medication type applied, while some have left ugly scars. It is a very frustrating condition, but I will keep searching until I find the cause of it.

Post 3

@Ceilingcat: Not everyone with this condition goes tanning, though.

I completely agree with your statement about being more careful of the sun, but I think you should know that porokeratosis is not necessarily caused by tanning.

I happen to be a very light-skinned biracial (black/white) woman who developed porokeratosis a few years ago, out of the blue. I have a painful lesion on my right foot that makes it difficult to walk sometimes. I don't tan at all. I take very good care of my skin. Unfortunately, I live in Florida which has a blazing hot climate year-round and despite all my efforts to protect myself from the sun, I have developed this condition.

My skin is extremely light for a "black" person, so I also think that the lighter a person is, the more likely they will be to develop the more severe forms of skin cancer and other conditions.

Post 2

@ceilingcat - If the threat of skin cancer doesn't stop people from going tanning, I think it's highly unlikely that the threat of porokeratosis will.

And furthermore, have some sympathy. Suffering from any kind of skin condition can be very uncomfortable, both symptomatically and because of how people react.

I don't think porokeratosis needs to be made into some kind of public service announcement: "look, this is what happens if you go out in the sun too much." Like the article said, for some people it's genetic and they didn't do anything to cause it!

Post 1

I've never heard of this condition before, but I think it needs to be more widely publicized. We all know tanning is bad for our health, but so many people still do it. Apparently the threat of skin cancer still isn't enough to stop some people.

However, in my opinion a lot of people who go tanning do it for their looks. Yes there are those people who try to say it make them "feel good" but I don't buy it. Maybe if more people knew about unsightly diseases caused by excess sun, more people would stop tanning.

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