Age spots or lentigos can be cosmetically annoying. However, they are also of medical relevance.
Pigmentary abnormalities can be disturbing. Despite numerous treatment options offered even over the counter, these alterations require an inspection by a specialist. Melanomas are a common differential diagnosis of these spots.
Dermatologist Dr. Ichiro Okamoto is a board certified dermatologist in Vienna (1080 Wien, Skodagasse 32), and is specialized for the treatment of skin diseases, skin cancer screening, skin cancer treatment, and mole checks. Univ. Prof. Dr. Okamoto informs about the development of pigmented spots, age spots (lentigo) and the risk of melanoma.
Age spots or lentigo are pigmented alterations of the skin which increase in size and number with age (as the name suggests). Sometime, the differentiation of melanomas (cancerous) from age spots or lentigo can be difficult. A biopsy is the ultimate choice for securing the diagnosis.
The color of age spots can vary from skin color to brown to black, however most lesions have only one color and are evenly pigmented. They can be elevated and sometime show verrucous (i.e. a wart like) rough surface. Skin that is commonly exposed to the sun is mostly affected. Therefore sun protection is the only reasonable mean to avoid pigmented spots. In fact, the number of age spots correlate to the extend of sun exposure and skin cancer risk: the more age spots, the higher the risk of skin cancer as has been demonstrated by a recent study by Dr. Okamoto’s group.
The number of age spots correlate with risk of melanoma
The risk of melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, increases with the number of experienced sun burns. Therefore, excessive exposure to the sun is currently regarded to be the most important external or exogenous risk factor for melanoma. As age spots are also associated with sun exposure and directly represent sun damaged skin, they correlate with risk of melanoma. Moreover, particularly age spots on the back increases the risk of melanoma more than spots on any other location. Obviously, a cosmetic reduction of these spots do not reduce risk of melanoma. As mentioned above, a consequent sun protection is the only effective way to avoid skin aging and to reduce skin cancer risk.
Additionally, a routine mole check or skin cancer screening avoids a delayed recognition of skin cancer and increases the chance of cure. Please find more information here.
Dermatoscopy for early diagnosis of skin cancer
Before treatment of age spots, the proper diagnosis is obligatory. Dermatoscopy is particularly helpful in ambiguous lesions to avoid misdiagnosis. In this case, a skin biopsy helps to secure the diagnosis. Only benign lesions should be treated with laser as laser does not offer the possibility of a histopathological analysis. If done properly, laser treatment is effective to remove cosmetically disturbing alterations.