Sorting Out Freckles, Moles, and Skin Cancer

Dr. Robert Levine

Limiting sun exposure through lifestyle choices, clothing, and sunscreen is the biggest step we can take to protect ourselves from skin cancer.

Hankering for a dusting of “angel kisses” across the bridge of your nose? Your local tattoo parlor may oblige: Freckle tattoos, the tabloids say, are the rage. And the ode-to-beauty-mark of the “Marilyn Monroe” lip piercing is still going strong. But Dr. Robert Levine of Advanced Dermatology PC reminds us that it’s the real-life counterparts of these enhancements, in particular the moles most of us have, that deserve our attention. “Cultivating skin awareness regarding actual ‘beauty marks’ is a key means of protecting ourselves from skin cancer,” says Dr. Levine, “the most serious form: melanoma.”

Skin cancer, according to the CDC, is the most common form of cancer. While melanomas make up a small fraction of cases, they are the most dangerous – due to their ability to spread to other organs. Alarmingly, their number doubled between 1982 and 2011. While older people are particularly susceptible, the American Cancer Society reports that melanoma is one of the most common cancers affecting young adults, particularly young women. And in 2017, the society forecasts close to 10,000 deaths.

The pigment cells that form a mole – called melanocytes – can develop into a melanoma. “That relationship is not a call to hit the panic button,” Dr. Levine emphasizes. “Almost all of us have moles, and, in most cases, they will remain harmless. But it’s important to monitor our skin and take prompt action when needed.”

“Our ability to observe our skin,” elaborates Dr. Levine, “is an opportunity for early identification and…

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