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While often common in people over 50, even younger adults can develop sunspots. Also called age spots, liver spots, or solar lentigines, these dark spots come from exposure to the sun. People with lighter skin, women, and those with a family history of liver spots tend to be more affected. Of course, more exposure to sun or tanning beds also plays a significant part.
UV light from the sun causes the skin to produce more melanin, which is the color source or pigmentation of the skin. The more skin is exposed to UV light, the darker skin gets, which is how a suntan occurs. However, over time and with continued exposure, small areas can become excessively colored or hyperpigmented, and a spot is born.
Routine self-examination of skin is vital in detecting melanoma early. Spotting changes are hard to do if the skin is not examined routinely. Dermatologists generally recommend doing a monthly skin check looking for 3 specific things.
Any freckle, mole, or sunspot that changes in color, shape, or size is suspicious. A tan spot that becomes mixed with red, black, or pink areas needs to be checked out. A small freckle that becomes much larger or develops an irregular border should be seen by a physician.
If a previously non-tender, non-itchy spot becomes itchy, painful, or tender, that is a warning sign. There are other reasons this change can occur, but a change shouldn’t be taken lightly. Get a medical opinion.
If a spot stands out from any other place on the skin, the spot needs to be checked. This is often referred to as the ugly duckling symptom. In other words, this spot just looks different from anything else and catches the eye.
Melanoma is one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer. A family history of melanoma or a personal history of several sunburns or tanning bed usage increases the risk of melanoma. Having more than 40 moles also means routine monitoring by a dermatologist is warranted.
Melanoma is often detected through routine skin checks using the ABCDE rule. A is asymmetry, or one part of the spot doesn’t look the same as another part. B is border, which is typically irregular. C is color that most often is not the same throughout. D is a diameter of greater than º inch but could be smaller. E is evolving, meaning the spot changes over time.
Melanoma doesn’t have to be deadly. Early detection and prompt medical treatment are crucial. Often free screenings are also available, so check out local health fairs or ask a medical professional. Most importantly, reduce risk by applying sunscreen and avoiding the sun between 10 am and 2 pm when rays are the strongest. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. For more information about skin cancer prevention, speak with a dermatologist.