54

I have a long history of skin issues, including several different types of cancers. As a result, I see a dermatologist very frequently to have potential areas removed. Because of this, I have become very proficient at tracking certain moles to know when they become a concern, as well as visually determining when a biopsy will most likely be necessary.

This leads me to my problem that has been dwelling on me.

Lately, at the gym, I have become casual friends with another member who will talk to me on occasion. Definitely not good friends, but just casual. Over the last few months, I have notice a very dark mole above his eyebrow that has become larger in a short period of time. Based on my experience, this raises a lot of red flags and even though I am not a doctor, I am fairly confident that this is something that needs to be checked out by a professional. It has the looks of something bad. To make matters worse, it is apparent that he uses tanning beds, which is an obvious increase in melanoma risks.

I really want to tell him to get it checked, but I feel like I am severely overstepping my bounds since I am not a doctor. Of course, I have to assume that even when doctors are out in the public, they cannot point these things out due to legal reasons.

How in the world do I tell a near stranger about a concern like this?? Obviously I will feel awful if I don't say anything and it turns out to be something bad.

  • 4
    "...I have to assume that even when doctors are out in the public, they cannot point these things out due to legal reasons." I don't understand the rationale behind this. Why should doctors not be legally allowed to warn others about potential health problems? – Trilarion Jan 29 '18 at 9:06
  • @Trilarion I don't necessarily know if it is a legal issue, but have you ever known anyone that has been approached by a doctor in public in a non-emergency situation? Surly dermatologists must see concerning spots on people all the time, but do they typically tell them they should get it checked out? I have never heard of this, and I assumed there is a reason behind it. – T James Jan 29 '18 at 15:14
  • 1
    It's not a legal issue, but doctors do have an ethical obligation to, if they see something, inform someone about it. The generally recommended course of action is to privately say to that person, "Excuse me... I'm a physician and I need to tell you something. You might want to get that [mole, growth, whatever] checked out". That way they're not withholding potentially lifesaving information and at the same time not making a diagnosis without an examination. – baldPrussian Mar 4 at 19:26
85

This is a tricky situation but ultimately can be a matter of life and death.

I will recommend you to tell him. Since it is a health related topic. Bottom line is that you can save someone's life.

You should explain why you are alerting him. Of course, since the person in question is just an acquaintance, apologize for the indiscretion of what you are about to say. You never know how the other part is going to react and preparing him for it is always a nice thing, while keeping it serious. Now, onto the real message:

  • Tell him about your medical history and with this in mind
  • Point out why you think that his mark is a red flag, even though you are not qualified for it

Just hope it's nothing serious and save yourself from a possible lifetime of remorse and rewarded with peace of mind for telling him.

  • 11
    I guess it depends in which culture this is applied. I live in Portugal and if I had an acquaintance with some sort of a red flag health-wise I would not hesitate in pointing that out... – OneEyedBandit Jan 25 '18 at 16:14
  • 11
    @TJames It might depend on wording- If you try to tell them how to treat it, I'd be more worried. But I doubt anyone could sue you for suggesting they see a doctor. It's just a suggestion after all. (Necessary IANAL claim here.) – Kendra Jan 25 '18 at 16:18
  • 17
    @TJames - No. This would be covered (As I understand it) under Good Samaritan laws. He's not trying to treat or diagnose, he is acting on his own training/experience and simply saying "I'd get that checked". – JohnP Jan 25 '18 at 18:27
  • 2
    @JohnP said it. I would say it to a complete stranger or at a first encounter of some sort. Knowing that some marking can be sign of life threatning danger I would advise anyone tbh. I don't think a relationship can be ruined for it but if it does get ruined, atleast OP got peace of mind. Just doing the duty as a fellow human being – OneEyedBandit Jan 25 '18 at 18:44
  • 3
    No... there are no legal issues here. You can't be sued for privately expressing your opinion to an individual. You could be exposed to trouble if you presented yourself as a qualified medical professional, but even then, without money changing hands (which would be fraudulent), you aren't at risk because of a single casual exchange with an individual. – Dancrumb Jan 25 '18 at 21:36
53

I find that leading with a question rather than a statement works better for casual acquaintances. Open with something like "hey, are you aware that that mole above your eye has been growing?". It's always possible that he does and he's already planning to take care of it.

If he responds with something like "eh, why does it matter?", then you can share your experience without coming across as pushy. Say something like "when that happened to me it turned out to be skin cancer; I'm really glad I had it checked right away so they could treat it".

At this point you have made him aware of (a) the condition and (b) its severity. Maybe he'll ask you questions, and if so you can talk about treatment, risks (that tanning bed), finding a doctor, and whatever else, but if he doesn't ask, I wouldn't push. You see him regularly and this isn't something he needs to do today (just soon), so let him lead the conversation.

  • 29
    +1, but I'd also consider a question like "Hey, have you been seeing anybody about that mole?" or "Hey, have you had that checked out?". Their awareness is important, but likely; it may help to be more forward about it being a medical concern rather than a social or cosmetic one that invites self-consciousness. – Jeff Bowman Jan 25 '18 at 18:41
  • 2
    I agree with the idea of leading with a question. Perhaps, ask the guy if he knows anything about skin cancer. Let him know (as much as you are comfortable with) that you have lived with it, and then mention that you feel concern for his health regarding the mole. Put the concern on you; then he doesn't just feel like you are pointing out a flaw. You are coming from a perspective of pain and a lesson learned. I hope that helps. – Lilibete Jan 26 '18 at 3:01
  • You can mention you have skin problems like that before and explain how a doctor help you solve it. But because he isn't a close friend, I won't mention cancer right away, unless him ask for more details. The moment you said that word the person will be scared for the whole week until a doctor give him a diagnostic, and if diagnostic is false he probably will blame you for that. – Juan Carlos Oropeza Jan 26 '18 at 16:07
  • 3
    I like this approach. I have a very prominent mole; every dermatologist who has looked at it has said it's not worrisome (I've had it since I was a child, my complexion is mole-prone, other indicators obvious to dermatologists) but I've had several strangers tell me that I should get it checked. Leading off with a question rather than a statement allows me to preempt their spiel, and reduces embarrassment all around. – 1006a Jan 26 '18 at 22:14
  • Ugh. This could turn out poorly. He might be in a bad mood, and just say something like, "mind your own business". That would make further discussion even more awkward, but given the severity, you should tell. You don't want to see him the next week and have it be worse but feel even more scared to approach the topic. Better to not require more than one or two sentences, and say everything needed before he has a chance to process and respond. – TOOGAM Jan 27 '18 at 9:00
30

An easy way to begin the subject is just to bring up your own experience. Don't talk about them, talk about you.

Them: How was your week?
You: Quite busy actually, I saw the dermatologist because I've been having some high-risk moles checked out, I had one here (points) that had to be removed. Did you know that if they change a lot over a short period then that's a sign of danger?
Them: Oh, I didn't know that!...

This brings up the subject in a natural way that isn't immediately invasive. It's possible that they're actually seeing someone already about it, or have had it checked out. This allows them to naturally respond with as much information as they are comfortable.

If they say they've seen someone already, then you can rest easy. If they say that they've never been before to a dermatologist, or never thought to go, you can encourage them to in a general sense. "Oh, you should, they recommend that everyone go every x years to get their skin checked out" (Whatever the recommendation is. Usually it's every x years over a specific age).

  • 2
    I like this answer the most because opening up the discussion on your own experiences will alleviate or reduce the risk of any possible self-esteem issues related to it. You certainly wouldn't want to be like, "Holy Moley! You should get that thing checked!" causing them to scuttle away in shame and you never get to tell them why their mole is even your concern. Opening with a personal experience and potential >avg knowledge on moles, and finally leading to more of a "side-note" of calling attention to them -- "oh and by the way..." -- is a much safer bet. – coblr Jan 25 '18 at 22:44
  • This is the best answer. But you also have to be careful about not coming across as someone who just likes to carry on with one sided conversations about themselves. – Michael Karas Jan 26 '18 at 7:19
  • @MichaelKaras It's just an example of how it could be worked into a conversation. Naturally the execution by the OP depends on them and how well they know the person and what they want to share, etc. Of course if they just read what I give off a script it'll sound horribly contrived. I'm assuming the OP has some degree of conversational skills. – user6818 Jan 26 '18 at 7:30
8

From the way you've presented this question, you've convinced me that this is probably something worth pointing out. I also understand the sort of unitentional tracking of the size of his mole; you tend to notice when something changes size on someone's face.

Unfortunately, both these things are hard to express face to face. If a loose acquaintence told me a mole on my face had grown, I'd be a little creeped out that they'd been keeping track of it. What's more, if someone told me they're "very proficient at tracking certain moles to know when they become a concern" I'd be skeptical.

I believe you because you've given a reasonable explanation here, but it often takes too long do that in real-time conversation. So instead, I'm going to advise you do something I don't often endorse: I want you to lie to this man. Well, really I want you to fib.

I think you should start conversation with something like:

Hey, sorry if this is a little weird, but I had a mole that looked like yours removed recently; apparently the dermotologist thought it might be something dangerous (I don't know anything about skin, so I'm sure there's a better term here than "something dangerous").

Ok, so that's not quite true. But you have had moles removed, and you do believe his might be something dangerous. I think the fact that yours haven't actually "looked like his" is pretty inconsequential (unless they have. In which case, great!).

The difference here is that you aren't trying to convince him you know all about skin conditions and you think his is dangerous. Instead, you're telling him you've had a similar skin condition and a licensed professional said it was dangerous. There's no convincing necessary. Then, if conversation continues (which I'd assume it would), you can say "yeah, it had been growing a bit, which is supposed to be a bad sign."

For some strange reason, there are times when it's easier to convince someone of something by acting less certain than you actually are. I think this is one of those times. Perhaps it's because people only expect doctors to be so familiar with health, so when a sort-of-stranger tells them about it, they're skeptical. Once you've breached this skepticism though (with a similar account and an appeal to authority), you're pretty much free to share whatever information you want. You've passed the point where he can reject your advice out of hand, and hopefully bringing up the size indirectly keeps him from being creeped out and trying to disengage.

Now, he may show no interest in getting it looked at, but I think at that point you've done all you can do.

  • 3
    Awesome advice! Thank you for recognizing the fact that I'm struggling with this is because it will most certainly come off as creepy Part of me says, who cares, I am trying to help someone. But if it turns out to be nothing, I still have to see him often and so I would like it to be as little creepy as possible. – T James Jan 25 '18 at 21:14
7

Just tell him. Apologize for it, give him enough information to indicate you have some experience, and let him know. Then don't bring it up again unless he brings it up.

I know we're not close, and this may be overstepping bounds to bring this up, but I have a lot of experience with skin disease and I've noticed a mole growing over your eyebrow which has several signs that suggest it requires medical attention. I'm happy to talk with you more about it, but I don't want to overstep any personal boundaries, I mainly wanted to encourage you to see a doctor about it asap.

Then see if where the conversation goes. You've given him critical information, you've indicated that you're happy to talk about it more, but that he'd have to continue the discussion - you're not going to force it beyond what you've already done - and you've kept it short. Whether he takes your advice or not is up to him, and the hardest thing for you will be avoiding asking about it in the future, particularly if he doesn't take your advice.

  • Although it's good to offer to talk about it, it might be important (culturally) to avoid pushing to a resolution. The OP might want to be clear that they're not an expert, and understand that they have no right to force a discussion. – Sean Houlihane Jan 26 '18 at 11:20
6

Since you have regular, friendly contact with this person, it should be straightforward.

Tony, I don't know if you've noticed, but the mole above your right [left] eyebrow has changed recently. Have you thought about having it checked?

That's a starting point -- you can adapt it to what feels comfortable for you.

As a wrap-up of the topic, before taking your leave or moving on to another topic, a comment like the following might help normalize the topic:

I hope you don't mind my bringing this up. If I were in your shoes, I would want someone to say something.

Be prepared to listen (sympathetically).

5

Why beat around the bush?

This is one of the few advantages mano-a-mano friends have, just... say it.

Hey man, you really should have a doctor look at that mole. ABCDEF - you know about that? Assymetry, Border, Color, Diameter, Evolving, Funny. They use it to score the "malignity" of moles. I am not a doctor, but after a scare with skin cancer I have met more than I care to. I advice you to check with one. Just looking out for you, pal.

And then just break the conversation if he doesn't reply. Message went through. In his hands now. Don't act weird next time you see him, act like it never happened.

I wouldn't worry about losing a casual friend over such a small awkwardness.

  • 4
    I'd go without ABCDEF....moles. Most people dont want a lesson, just a pointer to go someone who already knows about the subject :) – Martijn Jan 26 '18 at 8:34
  • @Martijn Yeah... perhaps. I guess the point is just go for whatever, no need to be afraid of broaching the topic. Just say it with purpose, like you actually want someone to go to the doctor. Sometimes a little bit of show-off-knowledge does the trick. – Stian Yttervik Jan 26 '18 at 21:40
  • +1 I would probably go with simply: "You should have that mole checked out. It might be skin cancer." If they respond with "why do you say that?" or something along those lines, then the OP could go into their history. But even if they respond negatively, the seed will have been planted. – Derek Elkins Jan 27 '18 at 16:44
  • I was about to say the same. Even if it is not, as you put it, mano-to-mano, it is just a normal thing to do. I wonder how much this is a cultural issue : letting someone die but avoiding awkwardness vs having the whole gym checking out on him, and discussing the whole thing together at a bar, and then go to the doctor with him as support. – WoJ Jan 27 '18 at 19:01
2

I'm new and can't comment on the answer that I actually wanted to comment on. I think that it would be a mistake to "lead with a question". If I were asked a question like "hey, are you aware that that mole above your eye has been growing?" I'd be extremely offended, tell you that it's none of your business and try to never talk to you again. It requires the person to give an answer about a defect in their appearance with zero indication that you want to be helpful. People can take it as you trying to make fun of them (and make a chitchat out of it).

Don't do anything that requires a person to give you an answer.

You can basically do what you want to do in under 45 seconds. Say,

"Hey, there's something that I want to mention, and I don't want you to take it wrong. I have a history of medical issues with my skin—issues that developed into cancers a couple of times. So I have some experience with recognizing problems like this. The mole over your eybrow looks like something that needs to get checked out, just in case; I've noticed that it's been growing. I apologize if saying this is out of line. Just something that I thought I should mention. In a spirit of helpfulness. Now, how has that renovation been going?"

(or whatever you had been discussing the previous time you saw him)

Boom, done. You are offering an exit into a different topic. You've conveyed what you wanted to convey. You have not turned this into a freaking discussion of someone's skin imperfections. And if he feels like it, he can ask you questions himself. Don't ask questions of him; that's intrusive.

  • I appreciate the feedback, and agree that leading with a question might come off as a little offensive. Per OneEyedBandit's answer, as well as your own, I am intending on just being blunt and apologizing for being so straightforward. – T James Jan 28 '18 at 15:28

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.