DIY not: why removing moles at home is a bad idea

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As the world continues to grapple with the spread of COVID-19, some states and cities are beginning to reopen while others are still blocked, with limited transportation, office openings, and in-person appointments. Regardless of where your community is in the reopening process, it is likely that you have participated in an “at home” version of something that you would normally do elsewhere. Home workouts, cooking meals you normally have in a restaurant, and virtual hangouts have increased in popularity. While these lifestyle changes can be inconvenient, most of them generally won’t hurt you (despite bad DIY haircuts!). However, it is best to leave a few things to professionals, including the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer.

Home mole removal devices can be a tempting purchase for people trying to take skin concerns into their own hands. But products that promise to burn, freeze, or use lasers to remove moles or skin marks come with many potentially harmful side effects and unintended consequences. According to Deborah S. Sarnoff, MD, president of the Skin Cancer Foundation, they simply are not worth the risk.

 

The main problem associated with removing something from your skin on your own is that there is no way for you to know if you are removing a benign or malignant lesion. Dr. Sarnoff says dermatologists spend years training to recognize suspicious lesions, and even after identifying one, they perform a biopsy to determine exactly what the sample is before deciding how to proceed.

Melanoma is a dangerous form of skin cancer that can quickly spread to other organs if it is not detected at an early stage. Dr. Sarnoff explains that if you cut a primary melanoma yourself, the melanoma cells can remain on the skin and spread through the bloodstream to other parts of the body, all without your knowledge. A board-certified dermatologist would biopsy the tissue to make sure of any diagnosis. If the mole was malignant, the patient would likely need additional surgery to remove the remaining cancer cells and make sure the cancer has not spread.

Another risk of removing moles at home is infection. Dr. Sarnoff says that people who remove moles at home are unlikely to pay the same level of care to tool sanitation, skin preparation, and postoperative care as a dermatologist. An infection will delay healing at the site and increase the chances of scarring. Not to mention, the risk of scarring after a home extraction is already high compared to when a dermatologist removes an injury. Dr. Sarnoff says that home extractions can lead to scars with chickenpox-like or hypertrophic and bumpy indentations. Either way, a high risk of scarring may be inconsistent with a desire to remove a mole in the first place.

The last problem with home mole removal is the possibility of ineffective partial removal. “Basically, removal may not work fully, and you end up cutting only the top of the mole,” explains Dr. Sarnoff.

Dr. Sarnoff says that “removing” a mole with a laser device at home can also cause cell changes that make them appear troublesome, even when they are not. The strange appearance of these cells could lead a pathologist to misdiagnose a benign mole as melanoma, meaning that he would have to undergo therapy for melanoma that he never needed.

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