Pigmented Lesions

Monitor and manage your age spots, birthmarks, freckles, and moles to avoid a serious skin condition.

Pigmented lesions are common and usually harmless. In fact, nearly all adults have at least a few of them on them on their skin.

Pigmented lesions are usually no cause for concern. But some can develop into different forms of skin cancer. That's why it's important for you and your doctor to monitor them closely. You might need an examination by a dermatologist for pigmented lesions that change color, shape, or size.

What are pigmented lesions?

These skin spots and growths are caused by melanocyte cells in the skin. Melanocytes are the cells that produce melanin, the substance that gives color (pigment) to the skin.

Common pigmented lesions include:

  • Age spots
  • Birthmarks
  • Freckles
  • Moles

Some people are born with pigmented lesions. Others develop them over time from exposure to the sun or through the natural process of changing hormones and aging. Some people develop them when they take certain medications, such as birth control pills or hormone medications, especially when those medications combine with sun exposure.

What should I do about my pigmented lesions?

It's important to monitor pigmented lesions closely. Most of them are harmless, but everyone's skin changes over time.

If you or your primary care doctor notices any changes in these lesions, schedule an appointment with one of our dermatologists. Some of the changes to watch for include:

  • Color
  • Diameter
  • New pigmented lesions, especially in adulthood
  • Size

You might also need an examination by a dermatologist if you have multiple moles or if you have a personal or family history of melanoma.

How does Henry Ford Dermatology examine pigmented lesions?

We perform comprehensive skin exams using a special tool called a dermatoscope. This tool lets us get a better view of the patterns of pigmented lesions -- some of which arent visible to the naked eye. We use this information to distinguish cancerous lesions from noncancerous ones.

We also can use a process called digital monitoring to keep track of your pigmented lesions. In this process, we attach a camera to a dermatoscope to document abnormal moles and their progress over time. We recommend total-body photography for patients with many pigmented lesions. We can use these photographs to get a better view of any new or changing lesions.

Extra precautions

We may recommend a biopsy for particularly suspicious pigmented lesions. This test gives us much more information than visual documentation. A biopsy allows us to determine if the lesion is precancerous or cancerous, as well as how abnormal it is and what treatment you might need.

Patients with pigmented lesions that develop into the skin cancers of squamous-cell carcinoma, basal-cell carcinoma, or malignant melanoma have access to the most advanced therapies at Henry Ford. We follow patients closely after treatment with regular whole-body examinations to detect any new growths at the earliest stage.

What are my treatment options for pigmented lesions?

There are different treatments available depending on the need for treatment.

Precancerous or cancerous lesions

If a pigmented lesion has become precancerous or developed into either melanoma, basal-cell carcinoma, or squamous-cell carcinoma, our doctors may recommend surgery to remove the lesion.

The surgery we recommend will depend on the extent of the disease. Many patients can have a simple outpatient surgery. Some may require Mohs surgery. Your doctor will help you decide on the best course of action.

Noncancerous lesions

Our dermatologists also treat pigmented lesions that, while not cancerous or precancerous, are bothersome or unsightly. Laser therapies and other cosmetic dermatology treatments are some of the options our skin doctors may recommend for age spots, birthmarks, and other noncancerous lesions.

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