Ask the doctor: Is It a freckle or skin cancer?

Q: Help! I just noticed a new spot on my skin. Can it be a new freckle? How can I tell when it’s skin cancer?


A: As our skin gets exposed to the sun, whether walking around, playing tennis and golf or enjoying a day at the beach, it is not unusual for freckles to sprout. But with melanomas on the rise, you don’t want to just ignore it, either.

Freckle 300x159 Ask the doctor: Is It a freckle or skin cancer? Photo

Photograph by Barbara Hales

Consider the facts:

  • Up 800% in women (from 1970-2009)
  • Up 400% in men (1970-2009)
  • One death/hour in the U.S.A.
  • 40%-50% ofFair-skinned people by age 65 gets some type of skin cancer

If you’re concerned about it, get it checked, especially since skin cancer can be treated and cured if detected early.

A mole (also known as a nevus) is a benign growth of pigment cells (melanocytes) giving the brownish color, and pop up in youth. Normal moles or freckles look alike and may be flat or raised.


Know the ABCDEs of Melanomas

There are certain traits that a mole may have that signal impending trouble. If any of these properties should occur, seek out a consultation with a dermatologist as soon as possible:

  • A=Asymmetry: normal moles are symmetrical. When one part of a mole doesn’t match the rest of the mole, have it seen by a professional.
  • B=Border: uneven, ragged, blurred edges
  • C=Color: the appearance should be a single shade throughout without lighted or darkened areas.
  • D=Diameter: there can be a problem if the diameter of the mole is more than a pencil eraser.
  • E= Evolving: Changing size, color or bleeding, raising, sinking into the surrounding tissue all signal a need for the skin doctor to check it out.

A freckle or mole that has any of the above descriptions, a thorough evaluation by a skin professional needs to be performed. Often this may signal a biopsy, which is a removal of a small tissue sample from the mole. The tissue is prepared into slides, which are looked at under a microscopic.

While melanoma isn’t as common as basal or squamous cell skin cancers, it is the most life threatening.


Risks of Getting Melanomas

Those who are at greater risk of developing melanomas are those who:

  • Have light-colored eyes and fair skin
  • Family history of skin cancer
  • Those with many large and irregular moles
  • Ignore freckles and never have the nevi checked
  • Get blisters with sunburns
  • Received radiation therapy
  • Work with hazardous materials
  • Live in areas with year-round sunshine


Good News- You May Avoid the Risk of Melanomas

Restricting the time and strength of the ultraviolet rays from the sun on your skin is very helpful. Ways in which this can be done include:

  • Sunscreen with SPF of 30 or more
  • Wear clothing such as a hat, sunglasses and sleeves when the sun is strongest

There is clothing on the market now, which is lightweight but has SPF protection and can be found both online and in stores.

Don’t forget men, that if you have a bald spot or exposed ears, thee areas need protection with sunscreen too! There are spray screens that work well in these areas that also protect the scalp.

The main thing to remember is the Dermatologist is your friend. If you find a new-pigmented spot, have it checked out. If you have many spots, a body check annually can save you time and sorrow in the future.