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Marks of age

06-Aug-2009 (Thu) Mind Your Body, The Straits Times

Oxygen-free radicals are believed to be responsible for age-related skin growths which appear as unsightly spots or dark patches on the skin. Fortunately, most are benign. NG JING YNG reports

There are the lucky ones who do not look their age as they grow older. The rest of us start to contend with wrinkles and unsightly spots.

The latter - which can show up on the face, arms, legs and, in fact, any other part of the skin - are raised dark patches of varying sizes.

The cause behind these ageing and age-related growths like warts are oxygen-free radicals, said Dr Philip Koh, a senior family physician at Healthway Tampines Clinic.

These waste products of chemical reactions in our body also damage cells and are believed to accelerate cancers and other age-related diseases, added Dr Koh.

One type of skin growth is called seborrhoeic keratoses. These are brownish and look like they have been stuck onto a person's skin.

'They increase in number with age and, hence, some people consider them as a marker of age,' said Dr Derrick Aw, a consultant at the University Dermatology Clinic at the National University Hospital.

While the cause is still unknown, they appear more commonly in sun-exposed areas, said doctors.

Another type, actinic keratoses, is also linked to the sun and its ultraviolet light rays.

Dr Neoh Ching Yin, an associate consultant dermatologist at the National Skin Centre, said actinic keratoses occur in old age as their presence correlates with cumulative sun exposure.

These growths are a cause for concern as they are an early indicator of skin cancer. Identified by red, rough and scaly spots, they may lead to more serious conditions if left untreated, said Dr Neoh.

Dr Lynn Teo, an associate consultant dermatologist at Changi General Hospital, said these skin growths should not be scratched. This is especially so for the viral wart - a common form of skin warts caused by the human papilloma virus - as the virus may spread, she added.

Fortunately, apart from actinic keratoses, Dr Teo said that others like seborrhoeic keratoses and viral warts are usually benign.

However, only a medical expert can determine if a skin growth is cancerous from features such as its size, colour and texture, so it is best to seek medical advice on this matter.

Available treatments to get rid of these often unsightly growths include lasers and liquid nitrogen therapy, among many others, said assistant professor Wong Soon Tee, a specialist in dermatology at Raffles Hospital.

As prevention, one should apply sunscreen and limit sun exposure, especially during the middle of the day, said Prof Wong.

"They increase in number with age and, hence, some people consider them as a marker of age." Dr Derrick Aw, a consultant at the University Dermatology Clinic at National University Hospital, on a type of skin growth called seborrhoeic keratoses

Actinic keratoses are red, rough and scaly spots about 3 to 10mm found on sun-exposed skin

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