Owner of Professional Skin Care Lab, Gina Gall, recently saw her dermatologist, Dr Judith Budavari, for an annual check-up. The outcomes were unexpected and somewhat unnerving, prompting Gina to share her journey, to highlight the importance of seeing a dermatologist.
I went to see my dermatologist, Dr Judith Budavari, who I’ve been seeing for about ten years now. It was an annual check-up, where Dr Budavari very thoroughly examined every inch of my skin, inspecting every freckle, mole and sun spot, using a magnifying device called a Skin Lite.
While she goes over the entire skin (between the toes, under the arms), she circles anything that she deems worthy of closer inspection. Once the full body examination is done, she examines the circles one at a time very closely with her Mole Max machine, which magnifies the mole. She then decides based on its appearance if it is something that needs to be excised.
Dr Budvari identified a small mole on my right shoulder that she said she wasn’t happy with – I thought that it had been there for about a year. After administering a local anaesthetic injection to the mole site, she used a punch biopsy tool to remove the mole, as well as a small area around it. This suspicious character was then popped in a specimen jar of formaldehyde and sent to the laboratory for testing. When removing a mole like this, Dr Budavari said, she has to go down to the fat layer underneath the skin, which she can see quite clearly.
I received an email from her a few days later, saying the results from the lab had come back, characterising the mole as moderately atypical (abnormal). She said that the mole could have become more and more atypical if we had left it, but now excised, we did not need to do anything further. In light of this, she suggested she remove another mole she identified on my back, which she removed the same way, a few weeks later. This required three small stiches. The test results revealed the same result, an atypical mild to moderate cell growth. As you can imagine, I’m very relieved it was not more serious!
Atypical moles like the ones I had removed show an increased risk for melanoma, a dangerous skin cancer – you can read more about this on the Skin Cancer Foundation’s website.
I’m possibly one of the most fastidious people out there when it comes to staying out of the sun and wearing hats and sunscreen. I see and treat sun damaged skin every day in the salon, so I know exactly what the sun can do.
This goes to show, you cannot be too careful when protecting yourself from the sun. The last time I got sunburnt was about 10 years ago, but what is interesting, is that moles like these are caused more by genetics than from sun exposure. The gene mutation can be inherited from a family member, or it can just start out of the blue. Known as the Viking Gene – originating from Northern European ancestors with red hair and fair skin with freckles – I probably inherited the gene from my father’s mother, who is Irish.
The sun is not the primary cause of melanoma, but a bad sunburn damages the DNA of the skin, which may trigger mutation. This is proven by the fact that you can get melanomas in between the toes or under the feet, where there is no sun exposure.
A mole like the one on my back, when mutating, will spread out sideways first, then darken in colour, before getting bumpy or raised. When the mole is raised, it is at a developed stage already. Although I do see my dermatologist annually, this whole experience has driven home how quickly cells can change and become potentially dangerous. Dr Budavari will see me again every three months for the next year, to check for any changes.
It is so important to visit a dermatologist regularly to have your skin checked – identifying and excising suspicious moles and freckles early on could be the action that saves you from a bigger, more painful and possibly unsightly procedure later in life. You cannot be complacent about skin checks.