Age Spots vs. Skin Melanoma: How to Tell the Difference

Age spots and skin melanoma are two concerns for men and women of all ages. While the skin changes may be nothing more than a nuisance, some skin cell changes require further treatment. Skin cancers can spread to other parts of the body, causing damage and ill health when not treated. Though many skin conditions are harmless, knowing the difference between what is harmless and what is not will save a patient from having to learn the hard way. The differences between age spots and skin melanoma may be subtle, but these differences are important to know.

What Age Spots Look Like

Age spots occur as the skin ages and thins. As the outer layers of the skin become thinner, the melanin in the skin comes to the surface more easily, resulting in spots. The more sun exposure the skin has, the more melanin will be produced, causing more age spots. This is why many people have age spots on the backs of their hands. Since the skin on the backs of the hands is thin anyway, plus these areas are not usually covered by clothing or sunscreen, this skin is more likely to see spots. Age spots are flat on the skin and can vary in coloring from light brown to dark brown. The spots can be a variety of shapes, but often look like freckles or simply areas of discoloration. Age spots are harmless, but they can be treated with skin lightening agents if a patient desires.

What Skin Melanoma Looks Like

Cancerous changes in the skin are becoming more common in modern times. Melanoma can begin as a small skin growth, often protruding from the skin, and be light brown to black in color. These growths can be large or small, but they are typically extending up from the skin's main layer and they have jagged and irregular edges. Melanoma often oozes and can also be cracked and bleeding at times. Unlike age spots, skin melanoma growths will change in size, growing as the cancer spreads. The cancer will extend into the lower layers of the skin while age spots remain on the surface of the skin. Melanoma can be found anywhere on the body where sun exposure has occurred, but is most commonly found on the face, neck, ears, back, scalp and arms.

While age spots and skin melanoma can be removed and treated, a visit to a skin care specialist or a dermatologist is recommended as quickly as possible. Since melanoma can spread to other areas of the body, quick treatment is necessary to avoid future health problems. Most growths will be removed from the skin and then a biopsy will be performed to check for cancerous cells and malignancy issues. If these cancer cells are present, various treatment options are available while a lifetime of frequent skin checkups will also be scheduled.