Pigmented lesions on the skin come in various shapes, sizes, textures and colors, and can be as innocent as an age spot, benign mole, or freckle, but can also be something more concerning, like skin cancer. Although many pigmented lesions look alike, not all of them are benign or innocuous. Having your skin examined by a dermatologist is essential to making sure that your moles are healthy ones. Remember the best prevention of skin cancer and best treatment to promote healthy skin is to wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30-45 every day.
Moles are growths on the skin that are usually brown or black; they may be located alone or in groups, anywhere on the body. Most moles are harmless and will unlikely pose any health problems. However, some atypical moles have the potential to become atypical or malignant. Atypical moles may be asymmetrical, or have irregular borders and uneven coloring. They can even be located in areas not exposed to the sun. A thorough examination of the skin performed by a dermatologist is ideal to determine whether a mole needs immediate treatment or simply needs to be checked on a recurring basis. When a mole is diagnosed as atypical, it may need further treatment to ensure complete removal, event though it is not skin cancer. A patient with an atypical mole may have a personal or family history of melanoma, which increases the possibility of malignancy.
A mole should be examined by a physician, preferably a dermatologist, if it is new, changing in any way, such as color, size or shape, itching or bleeding, or located in difficult-to-monitor areas. If a mole is irregular and needs to be evaluated further, either the entire mole is removed, or a small tissue sample is taken in order to biopsy it. If only a small section of tissue is taken and it is diagnosed as malignant, the entire mole will be removed, along with a margin of normal skin around it, to ensure complete removal.
The amazing thing about skin is that any changes can be often detected by the naked eye, brought to the attention of the dermatologist, and biopsied in an outpatient setting without any specialized imaging or diagnostic studies other than the initial skin biopsy itself. Cutting into a malignant mole will not cause cancer to spread. If the malignancy is detected early enough, a simple but complete excision may be the only treatment needed, and the skin cancer is cured. Remember that consistently using a strong sunscreen, early detection, and regular monitoring of moles for changes are the cornerstones of skin cancer prevention and skin cancer cures.
Age spots, also known as brown spots, liver spots and solar lentigines, are a common sign of aging and sun damage, but can be genetic as well. Age spots can range in appearance from flat, oval areas of pigmentation to raised, rough, warty growths. Although age spots tend to appear on parts of the body, such as the face, hands, arms, shoulders and feet that are exposed to the sun, sometimes, age spots can appear on unexposed skin as well. Most common in people older than 40, they can be freckle-sized or more than a half-inch in length, and range in color from light brown to black. True age spots are harmless and do not require treatment. If what is thought to be an age spot appears irregular, however, a biopsy may be performed by a dermatologist to ensure that it is not malignant. Although age spots are not medically dangerous, many people who develop them find them aesthetically unappealing. Treatments to remove age spots or make them less prominent are often considered a cosmetic procedure and can be done easily in an outpatient setting. And of course, wearing a sunscreen with an SPF of 30-45 will help prevent new ones from forming.