Doctor Says

Watch for changes in appearance of moles

Moles are growths on the skin that are usually brown or black. They occur when cells in the skin, called melanocytes, grow in clusters.

Most moles are not dangerous. They may change in appearance over time. Some may even disappear.

A halo mole is a mole with a white ring, or halo, around it. It is a benign skin lesion. An estimated 1 per cent of the general population has it. As halo moles are only of cosmetic significance, no treatment is required.

Still, it is important to monitor the lesion on a regular basis. Watch for any changes in the appearance of existing or new halo moles.

If there is any change in appearance or you experience pain, itch, and infection in the area of the skin, a dermatologist should be consulted to rule out the possibility of skin cancer.

If your halo mole is deemed benign, your dermatologist can prescribe mild cortisone cream to combat the itchy sensation.

Meanwhile, it is quite common for people to notice their veins becoming more prominent.

Many describe their veins as "popping" outwards. This can occur if a person has lost a significant amount of weight recently, resulting in the loss of limb tissue fat.

Vigorous exercise and body building can sometimes cause veins to become more obvious.  

A more important medical cause, however, is the presence of underlying vascular malformations.  These abnormal growth of blood vessels are usually congenital. 

The common types of vascular malformations seen in medical practice usually affect the limbs. They can be venous malformations (involve mainly veins) or arterio-venous malformations (involve both arteries and veins).

Venous malformations look like soft bluish lumps under the skin or prominent, enlarged veins. They usually take many years to grow until they reach a noticeable size.

Arterio-venous malformations are associated with high blood flow in the affected part. As a result, they grow at a faster rate and become easily obvious to patients.

An arterio-venous malformation usually looks like a compressible bluish lump or an enlarged vein-like structure. Sometimes, a pulsation can be felt if you touch it. 

 Another possibility is varicose veins. Blood flow in the leg veins is supported by one-way valves inside the veins that allow blood to flow upwards, but not back downwards.

The failure of these one-way valves results in blood pooling down towards the lower leg, giving rise to varicose veins.

People with varicose veins frequently notice large, prominent veins over their thighs, calves or feet. Sometimes, they may also have enlarged bluish and lumpy veins over the inside of their calves.

One may also experience cramps and swelling of the lower leg and feet. Risk factors include multiple pregnancies and childbirths, obesity, vocations which require long periods of standing, a previous history of deep vein thrombosis, and a family history of varicose veins.

One should seek a vascular specialist's advice if one is concerned about the prominent limb veins.

EILEEN TAN

Dermatologist, Mount Elizabeth Hospital

BENJAMIN CHUA

Vascular and endovascular surgeon, Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 13, 2015, with the headline 'Watch for changes in appearance of moles'. Print Edition | Subscribe