AS we age our skin goes through lots of changes – wrinkling, drying and pigmentation.

Age spots, small dark patches of skin, are common and a result of years of sun exposure and ageing. 

If you have fair skin or are a keen sun worshipper then you are more likely to develop “sun spots”.

But, if you’re familiar with the appearance of a dodgy mole, you may be left wondering if there is something more sinister going on.

Some characteristics of age spots and skin cancer crossover.

Skin cancer can cause a number of abnormalities – a lump or mole that can be shiny, itchy, multicoloured or scaly are just some examples.

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Melanoma skin cancer, the most deadly form of the disease, can lead to an irregular shaped new mole which is more than one colour.

It may be larger than normal and grow in size. 

Similarly, dermatologist Dr Sagar Patel said age spots “sometimes grow in size and can appear grouped together, which gives the skin a mottled appearance”.

So when should you see a doctor?

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What does a normal age spot look like?

As well as being susceptible to growing, Dr Sagar, a dermatology specialist at MyHealthcare Clinic, said "generally age spots are a bland and uniform light colour without any irregular pigment". 

He told The Sun: “They are the same texture as the skin so don’t feel raised to the touch.”

Age spots can take months or even years to appear and are caused when ultraviolet (UV) light speeds up melanin production, Dr Sagar said.

“This is the natural pigment in skin and age spots, which are sometimes called liver spots, appear when the melanin is concentrated in one specific area,” he said.

“Age spots are more likely to be on the most exposed areas of the body, such as the face, forearms and the backs of the hands.”

When should you see a doctor?

Look at the hands, chest or face of an older person, and there is a decent chance you’ll find an age spot.

Most of them are “nothing to worry about”, Dr Sagar said.

But he added: “Similar to with a mole, if you notice any changes in colour, an irregular border or outline, an age spot growing or becoming raised, seek expert advice immediately.”

The key thing to remember is if you are worried, it’s always better to get a check-up.

“It’s always best to be aware of any changes in your skin and consult your GP if you have concerns,” Dr Sagar said.

Skin cancer can affect anybody – even those who don't have a history of sunbathing or sunbed use.

Know the signs

Dr Sagar said many people still aren’t aware of what they should be looking out for when it comes to skin cancer.

He said: “Unfortunately, the UK is way behind countries such as Australia and the United States when it comes to awareness of moles.

“While regular mole-mapping is very common in other parts of the world, many Brits simply ignore changes in their skin.

“Granted, we don’t have the same warm climate, but you don’t need high temperatures to be exposed to harmful UV rays that can increase the chances of a mole becoming cancerous.”

He recommended the ABCDE melanoma checklist for keeping an eye on skin changes:

  • A – asymmetry, when half the mole doesn’t match the other
  • B – border, when the outline of the mole is irregular, ragged or blurred
  • C – colour, when it varies throughout and/or there appears to be no uniform colour
  • D – diameter, if it’s greater than 6mm
  • E – evolving, or changes in the mole.

Dr Sagar said: “This simple guide is used by skin specialists to help patients understand what they should be looking out for.

“If you check your moles for these five points it can help you stay on top of any issues.

“But there is no substitute for having an appointment with a specialist, who will examine your skin and discuss any area of concern.”

Non-melanoma skin cancer, diagnosed 147,000 times every year, looks different to melanoma.

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC), one of the most common forms, usually appears as a small, shiny pink or pearly-white lump with a translucent or waxy appearance, which may have some brown or black pigment inside, the NHS says.

It can also look like a red, scaly patch.

The lump slowly gets bigger and may become crusty, bleed or develop into a painless ulcer.

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Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), the other most commonly diagnosed non-melanoma, appears as a firm pink lump with a rough or crusted surface. 

The lump often feels tender when touched, bleeds easily and may develop into an ulcer.

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