Age spots, liver spots, sun spots or whatever they are called are very often counted to be a sign of skin cancer. People are not always even aware of what different skin marks are – moles, warfs and lentigos are often mixed up with liver spots (Melasma). I will reveal here some of the myths about skin cancer and look quickly into other skin marks also.
Skin Cancer Types
There are three types of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are generated by direct DNA damage while malignant melanoma is generated by indirect DNA damage. Melanoma is the most dangerous of all skin cancer types with the mortality rate of 15-20 % and it causes ca. 6500 deaths every year in the US while the two first have the mortality rate of only 0.3%.
- Basal cell carcinoma usually looks like a raised, smooth, pearly bump on the sun-exposed skin of the head, neck or shoulders. Sometimes small blood vessels can be seen within the tumor. Crusting and bleeding in the center of the tumor frequently develops. It is often mistaken for a sore that does not heal. This form of skin cancer is the least deadly and with proper treatment can be completely eliminated with not so much as a single scar.
- Squamous cell carcinoma is commonly a red, scaling, thickened patch on sun-exposed skin. Ulceration and bleeding may occur. When SCC is not treated, it may develop into a large mass. Squamous cell is the second most common skin cancer, it is dangerous, but not nearly as dangerous as Melanoma.
- Most melanomas are brown to black looking lesions. Signs that might indicate a malignant melanoma include change in size, shape, color or elevation of a mole. Other signs are the appearance of a new mole during adulthood or new pain, itching, ulceration or bleeding.
Age Spots Are the Sign of Skin Cancer
It is a very common myth that age spots would automatically be a sign of skin cancer. That is definitely not the case. Age spots themselves are very very rarely cancerous. In fact, scientifically thinking the liver spots do not pose any medical problems (except psychological) and are not dangerous in any ways. But the same skin cells can get more damaged and get cancer later (as any other skin cells). This myth is busted.
Age Spots Cause Cancer
I have often heard that skin cancer is stated to be generated by age spots. This “fact” is said because the liver spots have been diagnosed as non-cancerous at first but then later there has been melanoma. It would be easy to say that age spots have caused this cancer but the origin of the cancer is somewhere else – it just happened to be in the same skin cells. This myth is also busted.
If You Have Age Spots Have a Higher Risk to Get Skin Cancer
This myth is true but the answer is not that straight forward. Sun spots and skin cancers can form the same way – sun’s UV rays cause changes in DNA. So if you have got sun spots, you have been to sun. And if you have been to sun too much, you have a higher risk to get cancer. Also the areas with sun spots have a higher risk to get cancer as the darker areas absorbs the sun better than the lighter areas.
Other Skin Marks – Can They Be Dangerous
There are several different skin mark types, for example moles, warfs, lentigos, “Café-au-lait”-spots, Becker’s melanosis, Halo Neevus… Very often other skin marks are mixed with liver spots and only professional people can tell them from each other. Some skin marks are also very similar to melanoma marks so the doctors very often recommend to remove them, just in case. Melanoma can be suspected by checking the skin marks and their changes. Also new, fast growing mole is suspicious.
Even though the age spots themselves are not dangerous, you have a higher risk of getting skin cancer if you have them. Also some other skin marks look very similar to age spots and only specialized dermatologist can tell what they exactly are. To be sure to not have a cancer, one should consult a dermatologist.