Pigmented lesions

Does the phrase “pigmented lesion” mean something to you? Or does is it sound strangely foreign? The online Merriam-Webster dictionary defines lesion as, “1. Injury, harm. 2. an abnormal change in structure of an organ orpart due to injury or disease; especially: one that is circumscribed and well defined.” So in the skin, a lesion is an area that presents with a change from the surrounding normal skin. Pigmented lesions account for a large proportion of referrals from primary care physicians. Many patients also self-refer after noticing a funny looking pigmented spot on their skin. The majority of these referred pigmented lesions do not turn out to be melanoma, but I still believe in better safe than sorry. Dermatologists are trained to distinguish a concerning pigmented lesion from a benign (safe) spot. We do this by looking at the spot and we might use a special lens to look at the spot (dermoscopy). If we’re concerned enough about the spot, we may biopsy it (cut out a small piece of it) or cut it out all together and send the skin to a pathologist. The pathologist is a doctor who looks at the cells of the tissue and tells us what the lesion is.

Pigmented lesions can be many things. Of course, we’re most concerned about catching a melanoma, which is a serious type of skin cancer that can spread to other parts of the body and cause all sorts of problems including death. Then there are atypical moles, which we call “dysplastic nevi.” We believe that some percentage of these can turn into melanomas. That’s why if the pathologist tells us that your mole is atypical with a certain degree of atypia (usually moderate atypia or worse), then we may suggest that you get your mole cut out. Keep in mind though that melanomas don’t have to evolve from moles. They can arise from a part of your skin that never had a mole before! This type of melanoma is said to arise de novo. A pigmented lesion can also be many other things. Again, better safe than sorry. When in doubt, find someone who is trained to distinguish the good, the bad, and the ugly pigmented lesions.

Welcome to DermBytes!

Hi Everyone!  I’m really excited to start this blog on all things skin-related (and more)!  I’m a second year dermatology resident physician (meaning, I finished medical school, one year of internship in medicine, and my first year of dermatology residency training).  I’ve always been intrigued by the largest human organ — it means so much from a physical and medical perspective and influences our day to day social interactions and emotional well-being.  I can still remember those awkward teenage years when I’d wake up with a huge zit on the top of my nose.  I tried all sorts of stuff to make the acne go away.  Many of them were quite creative.  In retrospect, I wish I had just gone to a dermatologist!

Now I’m done with medical school and learning about all things derm, and I can’t wait to share what I’m learning with you!

Thanks and let me know if you have any feedback or suggest topics you’d like me to cover.  
Best regards,

Susan Huang, MD
Combined Dermatology Residency Program @ Harvard Medical School
Brigham & Women’s Hospital, Massachusetts General Hospital, Beth Isreal Deaconess Medical Center, Children’s Hospital of Boston, West Roxbury VA Medical Center & Lahey Clinic