Recognizing the Signs of Skin Cancer
Skin cancer symptoms can vary depending on the type of cancer. Signs of skin cancer can sometimes be subtle and may be overlooked, but recognizing key changes in your skin is important for early detection and proper treatment.
Common risk factors for skin cancer include: fair skin, sun exposure, tanning beds, increased age, suppressed immune system, as well multiple atypical or large moles. While skin cancers are common, they are highly curable if caught early and treated appropriately.
Examine your skin regularly and contact your dermatologist if you notice any changes. For couples, it’s best to create a buddy system in which you examine your partner’s skin routinely.
Schedule an appointment with your dermatology clinic if you experience the following signs of skin cancer:
Basal cell carcinomas can develop anywhere on the body, but are most common on the head and neck or other areas with chronic sun exposure. These cancers are often pink or red in color and can appear pearly, shiny or translucent. They may also present as a sore that doesn’t heal or an irritated skin patch. Some may even be crusty or bleed.
Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type of skin cancer and often starts as a rough scaly bump which continues to grow, and may crust and bleed. Like basal cell skin cancer, they are commonly found on sun exposed areas, but can develop anywhere on the skin.
Melanoma is a less common but more aggressive form of skin cancer which can spread to other organs if left untreated. Melanomas originate from the pigment producing cells in the skin called melanocytes, which is why they often present as a pigmented or dark lesion. Unlike BCCs and SCCs which are common on sun-exposed skin, melanomas are more common on the back in men and legs in women. A melanoma can present as a cancerous lesion by itself or can originate from a pre-existing mole. That’s why it’s important to monitor your skin regularly for any changes, growth or symptoms. The A-B-C-D-E’s of melanoma have been created as guideline to help detect atypical moles or possible melanomas:
Asymmetry: Irregularly shaped moles or moles that differ from side-to-side.
Borders: Moles with jagged or notched borders
Color changes: Color variations within a mole
Diameter: Moles larger than a pencil eraser, or moles that continue to grow in diameter
Evolving: Moles that change in appearance or grow
Not all skin changes are cancerous, but a dermatologist should examine any suspicious lesions that are changing or growing. If you develop any suspicious lesions that are changing, growing, bleeding or not healing, consult your dermatologist, as early detection greatly increases the likelihood of a cure.