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Moles Vs. Actinic Keratoses? What You Need to Know

Doctor Going Over Test Results With Patient — New Bern, NC — East Carolina Dermatology and Skin Surgery, PLLC

Are moles and actinic keratoses the same? If you have tan, brown, red, pink, or other similar spots on your skin, take a look at what you need to know about these two dermatological issues and how a doctor can treat each one.

What Is a Mole?

Moles are common skin lesions that most people have. According to the National Cancer Institute, adults typically have between 10 and 40 moles. While a mole can develop anywhere on the body, they are most likely to grow on areas exposed to the sun. You may have some moles you were born with and others that develop over time – through your 40s. A mole or nevi:

  • Can have one of several colors. Common colors include pink, red, tan, black, or brown. Even though moles develop in different hues, each mole should have one uniform color. If a mole is part pink and brown, red and black, or any other color combination, contact a dermatologist as soon as possible for an exam.
  • Is round or oval in shape. A mole should have a symmetrical round or oval shape. If the borders are irregular or blurry, talk to your dermatologist and schedule an office visit.
  • Could have a raised texture. The key word here is could. Even though some moles are raised off the surface of the skin, others are completely flat.
  • Is typically smaller than one-quarter of an inch. According to the Mayo Clinic, most moles are one-quarter of an inch in size or smaller. Some moles, especially those present at birth, are much larger. Like color and shape, it you notice a size change, call your dermatologist.

Along with changes in appearance, pay attention to the condition of the mole’s skin. Dry, crusted, or bleeding skin on a mole could point to a potential problem. This type of issue also requires prompt evaluation from a dermatologist.

What Is an Actinic Keratosis?

Actinic keratoses look like moles – but aren’t the same type of skin lesion. The similarities may confuse some dermatology patients, making it difficult to know when they should schedule a skin check or immediate appointment. If you aren’t sure whether you have a mole or an actinic keratosis or have any skin change, contact the doctor as soon as possible for a consultation.

An actinic keratosis is a precancerous lesion that develops after chronic or prolonged sun exposure. Unlike moles, which typically grow during the childhood, teen, and young adult years, most people don’t develop keratoses until they are in their 40s or over. Also known as a solar (or sun) keratosis, this discolored spot on the skin usually appears on sun-exposed areas and:

  • Is common. An estimated 58 million Americans have one or more actinic keratoses, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
  • Is typically lighter in color than some moles. While a mole can have a reddish, beige, or tan color, it can also have a deep, dark shade. An actinic keratosis is more often red, pink, white, tan, or even flesh-colored.
  • Is possibly crusty. Unlike the smooth surface or slightly raised surface of a mole, a keratosis often has a crusty, scaly, or dry patchy texture to it.
  • Is evidence of sun damage. Actinic keratoses form over time and result from UV exposure. This raises your risk for squamous cell carcinoma and other skin cancers.
  • Can become invasive. While most actinic keratoses won’t turn into skin cancer, some can. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, five to 10 percent become squamous cell carcinoma.

Whether you aren’t sure what the spot on your skin is or you think may have a keratosis, call your doctor for an evaluation. The dermatologist may need to biopsy (take a small sample) the skin or remove the lesion. Removal can reduce the risks and help to keep your skin healthy.

Do you need to see a dermatologist for a skin or mole check? Contact East Carolina Dermatology and Skin Surgery, PLLC, for more information.

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