Are Skin Tags Dangerous?

Nothin but skin

Recently I had a middle-aged male patient come to me worried that he had cancer-causing growths under his arms and on his neck. Turns out all he had were harmless skin tags.

A skin tag is a benign growth of skin cells. They tend to form in areas where the skin creases such as your neck, breasts, armpits, and groin area. Although close to half the population has skin tags, they’re more common among certain groups: women, particularly during pregnancy, the elderly, and overweight or obese individuals. Skin tags tend to run in families, so if your grandmother and mother has them, chances are good you will too.

A typical skin tag (or acrochordon) is small, oval or round, and hangs off the skin. Skin tags are not dangerous, and they are not a sign of early skin cancer. Indeed, since they’re benign, there’s is no medical need to remove them.

However, if you don’t like the way skin tags look, or find them bothersome, then you can have them removed by your dermatologist. He or she can remove a skin tag by snipping it off with a scalpel or scissors, by freezing it off with cryosurgery, or by burning it off with electrosurgery (using an electric current). The entire procedure takes only a few minutes, is virtually painless, and typically heals with 24 hours.

Photo credit: FCC, Kevin Dooley

Can Dandruff Cause Hair Loss?

Hole BioPic 05 F

Dandruff cannot cause hair loss.

While claims abound that dandruff causes hair loss and balding, there is no scientific evidence that it does. Though unsightly, dandruff is normal. Almost everyone experiences it at some point in his or her life, though it afflicts men more often. (For more on that, check out a recent post of mine titled, “The Truth About Men and Dandruff.“)

If you have dandruff and are experiencing patchy hair loss, then it could be any number of other hair loss diseases, including male pattern hair loss or alopecia aerata. See your dermatologist who can help you.

Photo credit: FCC, Carolyn P. Speranza

10 Tips to Get The Most From Your Dermatology Visit

Having a high quality doctor’s visit takes effort on my part and on yours. Here are 10 tips to get the most out of your next dermatology visit with me or any other dermatologist.

1. Write down all the questions you have and things you want to discuss with me. Be sure to list any spots you’d like me to check or any moles that have changed. Have a loved one lightly mark spots on your skin they are concerned about.

2. Know your family history: Has anyone in your family had skin cancer? What type? Patients often have no idea if their parents have had melanoma. It matters. If possible, ask before seeing me.

3. Know your history well: Have you had skin cancer? What type? If you have had melanoma, then bring the detailed information about your cancer. Your prognosis depends on how serious the melanoma was, that is its stage, 1-4. You need to know how it was treated, if it had spread, and how deep it was. The answers to these questions determines the risk of your melanoma returning.

4. If you have a rash, there are a few things I’ll need to know: Have you changed any of your medications? Soaps? Moisturizers? Cosmetics? Do you have a history of eczema? Asthma? Hayfever? Does anyone in your family have a skin disease? Take a picture of your rash at its worst with your phone; the rash might be improved by the time you see me.

5. If you are seeing me for acne, come prepared. Keep a journal of when your acne is worse. Is it around your period? When you are stressed? In summer or winter? What products or cosmetics are you using? What treatments have you tried? Have you had dryness or burning with previous treatments?

6. If you are seeing me for hair loss, then collect your hairs that fall out and count how many you lose in one day. It’s normal to lose 100-150 hairs per day. Make a list of other symptoms or health problems that you think might be related to your hair loss.

7. Always be honest with me. I’ll never judge you even if you are an avid tanner or a picker. I’m here to help, and I can only help if I know the whole story.

8. Have you read something online that you’d like to discuss with me? Print it and bring it. Sometimes patients will tell me they saw something about their disease on the web; without knowing the source, I cannot say if the information is valid or helpful.

9. Am I leaving too soon? Stop me. My time with you is yours. If you see me heading for the door, then tell me that you still have things you’d like to cover. If we are out of time, then ask me if you can set up a follow-up appointment to continue the visit.

10. Don’t leave empty handed — I’m not talking about the freebie hand lotion or drug samples. For every doctor’s visit, you should leave with printed or written instructions about what we discussed and what you should do next. Patients who receive hand-outs from their doctor are more likely to have positive outcomes.

Have you had an excellent or not-so-excellent dermatology visit you’d like to share? Do you have any tips for us?

Photo: Maggie Osterberg

Farther Distances Lead to Thicker Melanomas

How far away is your dermatologist?

A recent study from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill published in the Archives of Dermatology showed that the farther a patient had to drive to get to a dermatologist, the thicker the melanoma at the time of diagnosis. They reviewed 615 cases of melanoma from patients in 42 counties in North Carolina and found that the thickness of the tumor (measured as the Breslow thickness) increased by 6% for every 10 miles traveled.

This is important because in melanoma, thicker cancers are more dangerous and more likely to have spread. Thin melanomas are usually cured by surgery alone; thick melanomas or metastatic melanomas are difficult to treat and can be life threatening.

Don’t let distance deter you. If you or a loved one has a new, suspicious, or changing mole, then hop in the car and have it checked. Even if you have to stop for gas on the way there.