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Birthmark removal is a cosmetic surgery procedure that sometimes has the benefit of reducing health risks. First and foremost, one should be aware that the results of birthmark removal are permanent and that, as with all surgeries, there are related risks. Before having any surgery, make sure to discuss all your options, including their risks and benefits, with your physician.
There are many different kinds of birthmarks, and hence, different methods of birthmark removal. Most types of birthmarks pose no threat to one's health, and many disappear by the time the child has reached adulthood. Telangiectatic nevus, also called stork bite or salmon patch, is a light pink discoloration on the skin that typically disappears by the first year, while Mongolian spots, blue or dark brown discolorations, disappear by school age. Capillary hemangiomas, or strawberry marks, which are red, raised, lumpy areas, are gone by age nine in 90-95% of cases.
Hemangiomas may also be of the cavernous variety, in which case they can persist into adulthood and may form on the internal organs. Though most hemangiomas do not cause other health problems, they can be dangerous and are often treated with medication such as corticosteroid or interferon injections. Hemangiomas can impair breathing if they grow in the larynx or vision if they grow near the eye, and they can ulcerate. In mild cases, hemangiomas can be removed with laser therapy, and for serious cases, surgical removal is necessary.
Other birthmarks that persist into adulthood include moles or nevi, coffee-cream or cafe-au-lait spots, and port-wine stains. Coffee-cream spots and port-wine stains may both be indicative of more serious health issues, but if they are, birthmark removal will not help. Moles can become cancerous in later life, though the great majority never pose a health risk. If a mole shows signs of being cancerous -- such as irregularity of color or shape -- it should be removed for biopsy and cancer prevention.
Most birthmark removal is performed for cosmetic purposes. The two major types of birthmark removal are laser therapy and surgical removal. Laser therapy can be performed at any age, and multiple procedures may be necessary. Some people experience mild pain during the procedure, and an anesthetic may be administered if needed. Surgery is typically a last resort against birthmarks. Consult with your doctor about which type of birthmark removal is best for you or your child.
The risks of laser birthmark removal are minimal. In rare cases, bleeding or scabbing may occur. Other risks include bruising, tenderness, and skin discoloration, which disappears after healing or can be corrected by subsequent treatments. The risks of surgical removal are similar to those associated with any surgery, including bleeding, scarring, infection, and allergic reaction to anesthesia.
It is extremely important to follow your doctor's after-care instructions following any type of birthmark removal. For about six weeks after laser therapy, the treated area should be kept out of the sun, and it is important not to scratch. Birthmark removal procedures cost $400-500 US dollars (USD) on average, though the cost can vary due to a number of factors.