Large, Brown Spots - Cancer or Something Else?


I am 35 years old and went to the pool with my daughter and my mother (who is 59, but do not tell anyone else); and yes, we put sunscreen on an hour before we went to the pool. At the house, I put sunscreen on my mother’s back; and she had many large, brown, rough growths with irregular shapes. I was very concerned that they were cancer, but she told me her doctor said they were of no medical concern. Should she see a dermatologist?


It is not likely that your mother has many large skin cancers on her back that a physician would feel are of no concern. Most patients with skin cancer generally have one or very few at any one time. There are skin growths called “seborrheic keratosis” that are quite common, harmless, and appear during adult life. As time goes by, individuals tend to get more growths; and the older seborrheic keratosis get larger, and many get thicker and rougher to the touch. They can occur on both covered and uncovered parts of the body, but tend to be larger in size on the body. They tend to be a genetic trait and are not caused by the sun. They do not become malignant, and their change in size and color are harmless. The difficulty for many patients is they can have benign seborrheic keratosis and the pre-cancerous actinic keratosis, which have the potential to develop into a skin cancer. I feel that most patients with a history of sun exposure and several skin growths warrant an exam by a dermatologist.

Obviously, seborrheic keratois can be unsightly; and some patients complain of itching, irritation from clothing, and bleeding from accidental trauma. They can be removed in the office utilizing different treatments based on the number and size of the seborrheic keratosis, generally with minimal discomfort.

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