We are often warned about the danger of skin cancer, especially because we are exposed to the sun year-round in Southern California. Statistics tell us that these warnings are not without merit. In fact, 20 percent of all Americans will develop some form of skin cancer in their lifetime.
There are several other skin conditions that might cause us concern. Although these are usually benign — meaning they are not cancerous — and painless, they should not be ignored.
“The skin ages just like the rest of our body, and as we age, our skin often develops what I like to call ‘markers of wisdom,’” says Dr. Mona Mofid, a dermatologist affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital. “Many of these are harmless, but can be annoying.”
According to Dr. Mofid, common benign (or harmless) skin lesions include:
- Moles — Most adults have moles, which can appear anywhere on the body and are often brown, round in shape and either flat or slightly raised.
- Seborrheic keratosis — These growths usually affect older adults and are waxy and tan or brown in color with a rough surface. They are often referred to as “barnacles.”
- Cherry angiomas — These common skin growths are little red blood vessels that are red in color and look like small, flat or slightly raised cherries.
- Sun spots — Also called solar lentigines, sun spots are flat, brownish spots caused by sun exposure, which can darken over time.
Dr. Mofid says that life, age, hormones, the sun and other medical problems are the most likely causes of benign skin conditions. Although they are natural and don’t usually require treatment unless they are bothersome to you, they should be monitored. Skin cancer, or melanoma, can grow on or near benign growths.
“The American Melanoma Foundation and the American Cancer Society recommend a skin checkup as part of any health examination,” she says. “You should also be aware of your skin and contact your doctor about any new, changing or bleeding spots.”
Dr. Mofid also says that you can reduce your risk factor for developing skin cancer by staying out of the sun, wearing protective clothing and using a high sun protection factor (SPF) sunscreen and sunglasses. She recommends a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30, and encourages reapplication as needed.
“Talk with your primary care doctor during your annual physical examination about any concerns about your skin,” says Dr. Mofid. “This is especially important if you have a personal or family history of skin cancer.”
For the news media: To talk with Dr. Mofid about skin conditions for an upcoming news story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.