How to tell the difference between a harmless age spot and a deadly birthmark

As we age, our skin goes through many changes – wrinkling, dehydration and pigmentation.

Age spots, small dark spots on the skin, are common and the result of years of sun exposure and aging.

An age spot


An age spotPhoto credit: Getty
A melanoma mole


A melanoma molePhoto credit: The Mole Clinic

If you have fair skin or are an avid sun-worshipper, you’re more likely to develop “sunspots.”

But if you’re familiar with the looks of a shady mole, you might be wondering if something more sinister is going on.

Some characteristics of age spots and skin cancer crossover.

Skin cancer can cause a number of abnormalities – a lump or mole that can be shiny, itchy, multicolored or scaly are just a few examples.

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Melanoma skin cancer, the deadliest form of the disease, can result in an irregularly shaped new mole that has more than one color.

It may be larger than normal and increase in size.

Similarly, dermatologist Dr. Sagar Patel states that age spots “can sometimes increase in size and appear clustered, giving the skin a mottled appearance.”

So when to see the doctor?

What does a normal age spot look like?

Aside from being prone to growth, Dr. Sagar, a dermatologist at MyHealthcare Clinic, states that “age spots are generally mild and even in light color with no irregular pigment.”

He told The Sun: “They’re the same texture as the skin, so you don’t feel lifted to the touch.”

Age spots can take months or even years to appear, and they’re caused when ultraviolet (UV) light speeds up melanin production, said Dr. Sagar.

“This is the natural pigment in skin and age spots, sometimes called liver spots, appear when melanin is concentrated in a specific area,” he said.

“Age spots are more likely to appear on the most exposed areas of the body, like the face, forearms, and backs of the hands.”

When should you see a doctor?

Look at an older person’s hands, chest, or face, and there’s a good chance you’ll find an age spot.

Most of them are “no cause for concern,” said Dr. Sagar.

But he added: “Similar to a mole, if you notice a change in color, an irregular border or outline, a growing or raised age spot, seek professional advice immediately.”

The most important thing to remember is that if you’re worried, it’s always better to get checked out.

“It’s always best to be aware of any changes in your skin and to consult your GP if you have any concerns,” said Dr. Sagar.

Skin cancer can affect anyone – even those who have not sunbathed or used a tanning bed in the past.

know the signs

dr Sagar said many people still don’t know what to look for when it comes to skin cancer.

He said: “Unfortunately, the UK is a long way behind countries like Australia and the United States when it comes to mole awareness.

“While regular birthmark mapping is very common in other parts of the world, many Britons simply ignore changes in their skin.

“Granted, we don’t have the same warm climate, but you don’t need high temperatures to be exposed to harmful UV rays, which can increase the chances of a birthmark becoming cancerous.”

He recommended the ABCDE melanoma checklist to keep track of skin changes:

  • A – Asymmetry, when half of the mole does not match the other
  • B – Border when mole outline is irregular, ragged, or blurred
  • C – Color when it varies throughout and/or there does not appear to be a consistent color
  • D – Diameter if greater than 6mm
  • E – Development or changes in the mole.

dr Sagar said: “This simple guide is used by skin specialists to help patients understand what to look for.

“Checking your moles for these five points can help you keep track of any problems.

“But there’s no substitute for an appointment with a specialist to examine your skin and discuss any problem areas.”

Non-melanoma skin cancer, which is diagnosed 147,000 times each year, looks different than melanoma.

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC), one of the most common forms, usually appears as a small, shiny pink or pearly white lump with a translucent or waxy appearance that may contain some brown or black pigment inside, says the NHS.

It can also look like a red, scaly patch.

The lump slowly enlarges and may become crusty, bleed, or develop into a painless ulcer.

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), the other most commonly diagnosed non-melanoma, appears as a firm pink nodule with a rough or crusted surface.

The lump is often tender to the touch, bleeds easily, and can develop into an ulcer. How to tell the difference between a harmless age spot and a deadly birthmark

Sarah Y. Kim

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