Summertime? It is high time to have your birthmarks checked!
The annual dermatological check-up is highly advisable especially for those with sensitive or fair skin, which increases the chance of melanoma. Regular screening pays off big time, as skin cancer detected at an early stage is 100 percent curable. It is a common misbelief that applying plenty of sunscreen will save you from malignant skin conditions, because those pigmented spots on your skin behave differently when exposed to light. The latest diagnostics make it possible to map the entire skin surface for birthmarks, although in 80 percent of the cases it is sufficient to conduct a simple visual examination with a dermatoscope. Depending on the pigment structure of your skin, a more thorough histological analysis may be necessary, and in some cases certain birthmarks of concern are best to be removed. It is also possible to map the skin surface and store these images for reference, so that your dermatologist can easily detect any degradation or change in your birthmarks at the upcoming annual check-ups. This method is highly recommended for those with a higher genetic risk of skin cancer running in the family.
Dr. Márta Földes, Dermatologist
The annual dermatological screening is a good start that gives you peace of mind. All the same, you are advised to regularly check your birthmarks and consult your specialist if you detect new ones or find any irregularities with the existing ones. Be warned if a birthmark changes in colour, size or shape, or its surface becomes rugged, its edges serrated, growing tiny pigment extensions, when it starts itching or becomes painful and sore. You may be worried about the larger, more prominent birthmarks, although often smaller pigmented spots level with the skin are the ones causing trouble. Having said that, protruding birthmarks in awkward places are advisable to remove if they get easily caught in jewellery, or you pick it with your nails or shave it off accidentally, because irritation may trigger malignancy.
Annual screening is only part of your defence. The best you can do is avoid sunburn. The destructive effect of UV exposure adds up over time, so the more you get burnt the worse, and even a single occasion when you get roasted in the sun statistically increases the risk of developing melanoma later in life. Completely avoid the sun when the UV index is highest – between noon and 3 p.m. – and be careful even with sunscreen applied when sunbathing late morning and in the afternoon. Tanning beds are counter-advised.
Now is the time to consult a dermatologist about your skin type and the best products to protect your skin in the sun, and to find out if you need any dodgy birthmarks removed so that you are good to go by the summer vacation. Don’t fret if you missed out on your appointment and get caught in the summer heat – a check-up can be done anytime, any season, whatever the weather and whatever your skin type. The main thing is that you see a dermatologist at least once a year to have those spots checked. Should you be at a higher risk – with lots of irregularly shaped and pigmented birthmarks all over your body – we reckon you’d better take it seriously and have a check-up twice a year, practically before and after the summer.