Tampa native and NASCAR driver Aric Almirola has a slogan on the hood of his Toyota Tundra designed to turn heads: "Is it AK or OK?"
AK stands for actinic keratosis, a common, precancerous skin lesion caused by chronic overexposure to the sun. Almirola, 25, volunteered to become national spokesperson because it just made sense to him.
"Every weekend I see hundreds of thousands of fans sitting in the sun. I have no doubt that not many are wearing sunscreen," says the Hillsborough High School grad, who now lives in Mooresville, N.C.
AK looks like small, rough, crusty spots on the arms, legs, face, lips, shoulders, backs of hands, a bald scalp, any part of the body that is habitually exposed to sun. At first they're so small that you can't see them, but the skin feels like sandpaper. Eventually they can reach an eighth-inch to a quarter-inch in size.
Left untreated, AK can develop into squamous cell carcinoma, a serious form of skin cancer that spreads easily to surrounding organs and tissue and can be deadly.
Dr. Neil Fenske, chairman of the Department of Dermatology at USF Health, says if you have several AKs, there is a 10 percent chance that you will develop squamous cell cancer in 10 years.
"The problem is we don't know which ones are going to morph into this dangerous cancer," said Fenske, "so we treat them all, including the ones we may not be able to see yet in the area around the lesions."
Treatment options include prescription topical creams, freezing the growths with liquid nitrogen and photodynamic therapy, strong light that destroys AK. Prevention is simple: Use a high-SPF sunscreen often and liberally and cover up when outdoors.
Almirola wraps up the 2009 Truck Series season Friday with the Ford 200 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He hopes his truck and his AK awareness message are headed for victory lane.