Three Common Signs of Skin Cancer
Skin cancer is very common; in fact, it is the most common type of cancer diagnosed in the United States! One out of five of us will develop one! Ugh! The two most common types of skin cancer are basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma. The least common, but most serious, type of skin cancer is melanoma which can be deadly if not detected early. It is important that skin cancers be found and treated early because otherwise they can invade and destroy nearby tissue, and in some cases spread internally and cause death. Below are three common signs of skin cancer:
1) Look for a pink, possibly bleeding, scabbed flat bump on sun exposed areas! These might be basal cell skin cancers. Basal cell carcinoma is caused by excessive sun exposure so they are typically seen growing on sun exposed areas such as the face, neck, or extremities. Occasionally they will show up as a flat pink patch on the extremities or trunk. Often, patients will complain that these lesions bleed easy and have a small scab on their surface. It is important to get these treated relatively quickly because although basal cell does not tend to spread quickly, it can cause considerable damage to local skin tissue if left untreated.
2) Look for a rough, scaly patch or growth on sun exposed areas! This might be squamous cell skin cancer. They usually appear as a red, crusty growth or as a red, scaly patch on the skin. They are also typically found on sun exposed areas such as the face, rim of the ear, lip, neck, or extremities. If caught early, squamous cell carcinoma is typically curable. Left untreated, squamous cell cancer can metastasize.
3) Look for the ugly duckling mole! These may be melanomas. Melanoma is a cancer of the pigment cells of the skin, called melanocytes. So, typically melanomas will show up as an asymmetric, irregular shaped, perhaps multi-colored spot of pigment of the skin. Luckily, melanoma is almost always curable if detected early. It is certainly important that any mole that is new, changing, or symptomatic should be evaluated by a dermatologist.
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends a yearly skin exam for most of us and more frequent skin cancer screening for those patients with risk factors or a history of skin cancer. It is also important to do a monthly self skin exam to look for new or irregular growths on your skin. Anything that seems different or unusual should be examined by a dermatologist as soon as possible. It is not wise to play doctor at home and a self exam is no substitute for a quality skin cancer screening by a dermatologist!