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Ugly side of cheap mole removal

  Saturday, 18 l 12 l 2010 Source: The Straits Times   
By: Fiona Low

It may cost as little as $5, but MOH says some need to be examined in case they are cancerous 

mole-removalSOME beauty outlets are offering to remove moles for as little as $5. But the Ministry of Health (MOH) has this advice: Be careful. It says the public should undergo treatment only with registered doctors operating within licensed health-care institutions. “Some moles may need to be properly examined and diagnosed to ensure that they are benign,” a ministry spokesman told The Straits Times. He cautioned that, depending on the size, location and type of mole, removal could require the specialized clinical skills of a medical practitioner. But this has not stopped a rash of outlets in Housing Board estates from offering such services. Some – like those in the Bugis area – even operate at roadside stalls under a tent-like structure. 

These procedures – which cost upwards of $150 when done at the National Skin Centre (NSC) and about $800 when done by a plastic surgeon – range from $5 to about $40 a mole at beauty outlets. Administrative assistant Elaine Wee, 28, got six moles on her face removed in a single sitting earlier this year at a beauty salon in Albert Street. The cost: A mere $25. The salon, House De Beauty, even extended a seven-day guarantee on the removal. She was told the salon would remove them again for free if they grew back within that time. To sweeten the deal, she even got a “buy five get one free” discount on the procedure.  

beauty-salonBeauty salons typically either remove moles with a “burning” instrument or with liquid acid. The burning method, known as electrocautery, involves destroying tissue by converting an electrical current to heat. A metal probe, which is pressed onto the mole, destroys the tissue. The other method uses trichloroacetic acid, which is caustic and destroys skin tissue when applied. Beauty salons The Straits Times spoke to said the procedure takes about 10 minutes. The area treated will darken and form a scab that falls off within several days. The low price was an attraction for Ms Wee, who said she had expected mole removal to be much more costly. “I was not too worried about the risks because my friends went for it first and the results were good,” she said. “Previously, my moles could be seen in photographs. Now my face looks cleaner.”  

Moles develop when cells called melanocytes – which give skin its colour – grow in a cluster instead of being spread throughout the skin. They can occur at any stage in life and are usually harmless. However, doctors warn that such treatments may not be permanent – they could leave behind some cells that could later lead to a recurrence. This could be especially dangerous if the moles are malignant. Dr Chua Sze Hon, a senior consultant dermatologist at the NSC, said: “If the mole is cancerous and is not fully removed, subsequent removal will be more difficult because the recurrent cancer may have spread wider and deeper. “In addition, if melanoma is disrupted without fully removing it, there will be an increased risk of the cancer spreading to the rest of the body via the bloodstream and lymphatics.” 

Melanoma is one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer arising from mole cells. Such cancer growths must be removed by more aggressive methods, such as surgery, to ensure that the disease does not spread. At the NSC, patients seeking mole removal are examined to check if the mole is cancerous. Only dermatologists are trained to do this, said Dr Chua. Superficial light brown moles can be removed with a laser machine and larger, protruding ones via surgery. Both procedures can be carried out only by qualified medical professionals.

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