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The skin is your largest organ, and it changes as you age. Although new growths and bumps can be harmless, they’re also the most common indicator of skin cancer. Luckily, early identification can help ensure proper treatment and care.
Diagnosing skin conditions
“A change to a mole, a sore that won’t heal or a new growth are warning signs of skin cancer,” said Nandini Kulkarni, M.D., a fellowship-trained, double board certified, surgical oncologist and Medical Director of Surgical Oncology for Inspira Health. “Conducting regular skin checks can help you know when to see a dermatologist.”
Check your skin regularly by looking for the A-B-C-D-Es of melanoma:
- Asymmetrical: Does the spot in question have an irregular shape?
- Border: Does it have a jagged border?
- Color: Is the color of the spot uneven?
- Diameter: Is the spot larger than the diameter of a pencil eraser?
- Evolving: Has it changed in the past few months?
If you notice any of these in a spot or dot, follow up by scheduling a skin check with your dermatologist. “During a skin check, your dermatologist will examine any lesions or abnormalities on your skin,” said Dr. Kulkarni. “If they see something that looks suspicious, they’ll perform a biopsy.” From here, your dermatologist will inform you of your treatment options.
Non-life-threatening conditions often require a diagnosis to rule out skin cancer. These include:
- Liver spots: patches of dark skin that appear in areas exposed to ultraviolet (UV) light. They don’t typically require treatment because they aren’t dangerous or uncomfortable.
- Psoriasis: a chronic condition that causes red, itchy patches that are dry and scaly. It comes and goes in cycles, flaring up for some time before subsiding.
- Nevus: a pigmented lesion on the skin, also known as a mole. It doesn’t usually require treatment but can become cancerous in rare instances.
- Seborrheic keratoses: benign skin tumors that can resemble cancerous growths but don’t typically require treatment.
Understanding liver spots
Liver spots, also commonly referred to as age spots, are dark spots that develop on the skin due to long-term sun exposure. Sometimes called sun spots, age spots or solar lentigines, these flat, painless marks can be different shades of tan, brown or black. They’re usually found on areas of the body exposed to the sun, including the face, neck, shoulders, upper back, hands and feet.
Liver spots are very common, especially in people over age 50. While anyone can be affected, women are more likely than men to develop them. People with fair skin, a family history of the condition or significant exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun or a tanning bed are also at an increased risk.
Even if a skin change seems insignificant, report it to your dermatologist as soon as possible. “Differentiating between benign and malignant skin conditions takes years of training and practice,” said Dr. Kulkarni. “It’s always a good idea to ask your dermatologist about any changes to your skin.”
Protecting Your Skin
Using a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen is the best way to prevent liver spots and skin cancer. For the best coverage, make sure your sunscreen has a skin protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 and protects from UVA and UVB rays.
Apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going outside to allow time for absorption, and reapply every two hours. Make sunscreen part of your daily skincare routine, even on cloudy days and during the winter.
Your skin needs as much attention as any other part of your body. Talk to your dermatologist regarding any changes or concerns. Learn more about skin cancer.
Inspira Health is a high reliability organization (HRO), which means safety is the top priority for patients and staff. To make an appointment, call 1-800-INSPIRA.