There is loads of information about the risks involved with overexposing the skin to UV rays, and we are constantly reminded to protect our skin from the sun and undergo annual Skin Cancer Screenings – and for good reason.
According to the American Cancer Society, “skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. More than 3.5 million skin cancers in over two million people are diagnosed annually, and over the past three decades, more people have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined.”
So how can you tell if a brown spot, freckle or mole you have had for ages, has turned into something more than that? What are the signs of something cancerous?
Skin cancer is the only type of cancer that can be seen on the surface of the skin. Skin cancer screenings and self-examination of the skin for any changes can detect early warning signs of skin cancer.
There are the three common skin cancers – these are the warning signs you can look for, and how each type may appear on the skin:
Basal Cell Carcinoma – This is the most common form of skin cancer with approximately 2.8 million cases diagnosed annually in the US. Basal Cell Carcinoma sometimes resembles noncancerous skin conditions such as psoriasis or eczema and only a specialist in diseases of the skin can correctly determine the difference. This skin cancer appears as a sore that at first seems to get better, then recurs and may start to bleed. Basal cell carcinoma often occurs on the areas most often exposed to the sunlight, such as the face and neck. This type of skin cancer usually remains confined to the local area and does not burrow into the skin or metastasize to other locations.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma – This is the second most common types of skin cancer. Anyone is at risk, but those with fair skin, blue, green, or gray eyes and fair hair are at highest risk of developing this type of cancer. Squamous cell carcinomas usually appear as a persistent thick, rough, scaly patch on the surface of the skin that will bleed if bumped. These often look like warts and sometimes look like open sores with raised borders and a crusted surface over an elevated pebbly base. They can be brown or red and can be from about 1 mm to 1 inch in diameter. While this skin cancer seldom spreads, or invades vital organs, it can damage surrounding tissue, causing considerable destruction and disfigurement. Those who have had basal cell carcinoma are more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma.
Melanoma – This is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Melanoma kills about 8,790 people in the US annually. Melanomas often resemble moles and may even start out as moles. Most melanomas are black or brown, but they can be skin-colored, pink, red, purple, blue or white. The first warning sign can appear in one or more abnormal moles. That’s why it’s important to know your skin very well so you can recognize any changes in the moles on your body. Look for the ‘ABCDE’ signs of melanoma, and if you see one or more of these, make an appointment with a physician immediately.
A = Asymmetry: Does not have equal sides – no two sides match.
B = Border: The borders of early melanoma are uneven with scalloped or notched edges.
C = Color: A variety of colors is another warning sign. Look for different shades of brown, tan or black. A melanoma may also appear in some other color like red or blue.
D = Diameter: Melanomas are usually larger than the size of a pencil eraser, but they can be smaller when first detected.
E = Evolving: Any change in size, color, shape, or new symptoms like bleeding, scabbing, or itching all point to danger.
If melanoma is identified and treated early, it is almost always curable. If not, the cancer can spread to other parts of the body, where it becomes hard to treat and can be fatal.
Even if you have carefully practiced sun safety all summer, it’s important to continue being vigilant about your skin throughout the year. Examine your skin once a month from head to toe. Look for any suspicious lesions. Self-exams and an annual Skin Cancer Screening can help identify potential skin cancers early, when they can almost always be completely cured.
Skin Cancer Facts – SkinCancer.org. http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/skin-cancer-facts
Melanoma – SkinCancer.org. http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/melanoma