Signs And Symptoms Of Skin Cancer
So how do you know if you have skin cancer? The best policy is to pay attention to your skin, and have regular check-ups with your Doctor or dermatologist. Below are some signs and symptoms to look out for.
Melanoma skin cancer typically appears as a new growth on your skin, or changes in an existing mole. Things to watch out for include:
- your moles shape changes the border changes or becomes irregular it gets larger or swollen
- your mole becomes irritated it could become sore, itchy, bleed, or crusty it might just feel different than it did before
- the color of your mole changes non-cancerous moles are usually one shade of brown or tan your mole develops multiple and changing colors, including blue and black
- as an adult, a new mole appears that wasnt there before
Non-melanoma skin cancers vary with their symptoms and degree of seriousness, but more often will appear as a spot or sore on your skin. Signs to watch out for include:
- growths or lumps that werent there before
- red patches on your skin
- any type of sore that doesnt heal within 4 weeks
- nodules on the skin
When To See A Healthcare Provider
If you notice any of the signs or symptoms of skin cancer mentioned above, make an appointment to see your healthcare provider. A dermatologist can examine your skin and determine if a biopsy is needed. This is true no matter your skin color.
Skin cancer can more difficult to see or may look different on darker skin, and even healthcare providers can overlook melanomas in people of color. If you are concerned, but do not feel that your concern is being addressed, be your own advocate and continue to ask questions or get a second opinion.
Skin Cancer Doctor Discussion Guide
Get our printable guide for your next doctor’s appointment to help you ask the right questions.
The 4 Stages Of Melanoma
Two main things determine the stage of melanoma: The thickness or depth of the tumor and how far it has spread when its diagnosed, explains David Polsky, M.D., dermatologist at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. In stages 0, 1, and 2, the melanoma is limited to the skin. In stage 3, its spread to the lymph nodes, small structures throughout your body that help filter fluids and fight infection. In the most advanced stage, stage 4, melanoma cells have broken away from the original tumor, traveled through the body and formed a new tumor somewhere else.
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End Of Life Symptoms Of Stage Iv Melanoma
Melanoma is a very dangerous form of skin cancer that readily spreads via lymph nodes to other parts of the body 1. Melanoma originates in the melanocytes, the cells that produce pigmentation or coloring of our skin, hair and eyes, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.org 1. Stage IV melanoma is advanced cancer that has invaded deep into the skin 1. End of life symptoms of stage IV melanoma can be varied 2.
Why Does It Happen
Non-melanoma skin cancer is mainly caused by overexposure to ultraviolet light. UV light comes from the sun, as well as artificial sunbeds and sunlamps.
In addition to UV light overexposure, there are certain things that can increase your chances of developing non-melanoma skin cancer, such as:
- a family history of the condition
- pale skin that burns easily
- a large number of moles or freckles
Read more about the causes of non-melanoma skin cancer
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What Is Recurrent Melanoma
Recurrent melanoma refers to a recurrence of tumor at the site of removal of a previous tumor, such as in, around, or under the surgical scar. It may also refer to the appearance of metastatic melanoma in other body sites such as skin, lymph nodes, brain, or liver after the initial tumor has already been treated. Recurrence is most likely to occur within the first five years, but new tumors felt to be recurrences may show up decades later. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish recurrences from new primary tumors.
Signs And Symptoms Of Melanoma Skin Cancer
How melanoma skin cancer looks can vary. Melanoma skin cancer often starts as an abnormal mole anywhere on the skin. A mole is a common non-cancerous growth. It is normally a small, round or oval spot that is usually brown, tan or pink. It may be raised or flat. Most people have a few moles.
A change in the colour, size or shape of a mole is usually the first sign of melanoma skin cancer. These changes can happen in a mole or spot that is already on your skin, or changes can appear as a new mole. Other health conditions can also look like melanoma skin cancer.
The ABCDE rule below can help you look for the common signs and symptoms of melanoma skin cancer. See your doctor if you have any of these changes on your skin:
A is for asymmetry One-half of a mole does not have the same shape as the other half.
B is for border The edge of a mole is uneven . It can look jagged, notched or blurry. The colour may spread into the area around the mole.
C is for colour The colour of a mole is not the same throughout. It could have shades of tan, brown and black. Sometimes areas of blue, grey, red, pink or white are also seen.
D is for diameter The size of a mole is larger than 6 mm across, which is about the size of a pencil eraser.
E is for evolving There is a change in the colour, size, shape or feel of the mole. The mole may become itchy or you may have a burning or tingling feeling.
Other signs and symptoms of melanoma skin cancer include:
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What Is A Biopsy
An excisional biopsy is a simple surgical procedure in which the lesion is removed and sent to a laboratory for analysis. Sometimes this might be done by your GP or by a specialist. You will be given a local anaesthetic and then a scalpel is used to remove the mole and some of the surrounding tissue. You may have stitches to help the wound to heal.
The tissue that is removed is sent to a pathology laboratory for examination and it takes one to two weeks to get the results a followup appointment may be arranged. You will find out if melanoma is present and what stage it is, how thick it is, and other information such as how rapidly the cells are dividing , ulceration, regression and excision margins.
If the tests show you have melanoma, you may have surgery to remove a wider margin of surrounding skin see page 15 for information on treatment.
If melanoma is confirmed and confined to the epidermis, then it is in situ if it has spread to the dermis it is invasive and if it has spread to other parts of your body it is metastatic.
Depending on the results of the biopsy additional testing may be recommended. This is more likely for thicker melanomas or if you have other risk factors.
Biological Therapies And Melanoma
Biological therapies are treatments using substances made naturally by the body. Some of these treatments are called immunotherapy because they help the immune system fight the cancer, or they occur naturally as part of the immune system.
There are many biological therapies being researched and trialled, which in the future may help treat people with melanoma. They include monoclonal antibodies and vaccine therapy.
What Does Stage 1 Melanoma Mean
In Stage I melanoma, the cancer cells are in both the first and second layers of the skinthe epidermis and the dermis. A melanoma tumor is considered Stage I if it is up to 2 mm thick, and it may or may not have ulceration. There is no evidence the cancer has spread to lymph nodes or distant sites .
How Is Skin Cancer Diagnosed
Your doctor or dermatologist will first conduct a physical examination by looking at your skin to identify any suspicious spots using a dermatoscope .
Its not always possible to tell from looking at it whether a spot or lump is cancerous or not. So your doctor or dermatologist may take a skin biopsy. This is where part of, or all of, your spot is removed and sent for further study under a microscope.
Some smartphone apps allow you to photograph your skin and compare photos over time. While they can be a good reminder to check your skin and record details, they shouldnt replace a visit to the doctor. See a doctor if youre concerned about any spots or moles on your skin.
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How Do You Know If You Have Skin Cancer
As dermatologists, this is something that we unfortunately have to discuss on a regular basis. While there are many types and degrees of skin cancer, all with differing levels of seriousness, there are a laundry list of symptoms to look out for.
Lets start with understanding the most common types.
When Should I Call My Doctor
You should have a skin examination by a doctor if you have any of the following:
- A personal history of skin cancer or atypical moles .
- A family history of skin cancer.
- A history of intense sun exposure as a young person and painful or blistering sunburns.
- New or numerous large moles.
- A mole that changes in size, color or shape.
- Any mole that itches, bleeds or is tender.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Receiving a diagnosis of melanoma can be scary. Watch your skin and moles for any changes and seeing your doctor regularly for skin examinations, especially if youre fair-skinned, will give you the best chances for catching melanoma early when its most treatable.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/21/2021.
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What Should I Eat If I Have Melanoma
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Eat small, frequent meals throughout the day.
- Choose protein-rich foods.
- Include whole grains.
- Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables every day. Fruits and vegetables offer the body antioxidants, which can help fight against cancer.
- Choose sources of healthy fat.
Learn More About Stages Of Skin Cancer
All stages of skin cancer can be serious. Delaying treatment can cause unwanted complications, and in some cases, death. Fortunately, treatments with high success rates are now available and can help you restore your confidence, balance, and health. Contact Advanced Skin Canser and Dermatology Center in Wolcott, CT to schedule your consultation today. Well be happy to answer all your questions and recommend the best treatment options!
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What About Other Treatments I Hear About
When you have cancer you might hear about other ways to treat the cancer or treat your symptoms. These may not always be standard medical treatments. These treatments may be vitamins, herbs, special diets, and other things. You may wonder about these treatments.
Some of these are known to help, but many have not been tested. Some have been shown not to help. A few have even been found to be harmful. Talk to your doctor about anything youre thinking about using, whether its a vitamin, a diet, or anything else.
Flat Red Patches And Rashes
One type of cancer that affects the skin, T-cell lymphoma, often begins with very itchy, flat, red patches and plaques that are easily mistaken for eczema or psoriasis.
One type of T-cell lymphoma, mycosis fungoids, transitions from these patches to dome-shaped nodules, and then to extensive reddened areas on multiple areas of the body. It may spread to lymph nodes and other regions of the body such as the lungs, liver, and bones. T-cell lymphomas most often begin on the buttocks, groin, hips, armpits, and chest.
Other cancers, such as breast cancer, may spread to the skin and initially be mistaken for a benign rash. Inflammatory breast cancer is a type of breast cancer that originates in the skin and appears, at first, to be an eczematous type of rash.
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What Are The Signs Of Symptoms Of Metastatic Melanoma
Signs and symptoms depend upon the site of metastasis and the amount of tumor there. Metastases to the brain may first appear as headaches, unusual numbness in the arms and legs, or seizures. Spread to the liver may be first identified by abnormal blood tests of liver function long before the patient has jaundice, a swollen liver, or any other signs of liver failure. Spread to the kidneys may cause pain and blood in the urine. Spread to the lungs may cause shortness of breath, other trouble breathing, chest pain, and continued cough. Spread to bones may cause bone pain or broken bones called pathologic fractures. A very high tumor burden may lead to fatigue, weight loss, weakness and, in rare cases, the release of so much melanin into the circulation that the patient may develop brown or black urine and have their skin turn a diffuse slate-gray color. The appearance of multiple blue-gray nodules in the skin of a melanoma patient may indicate widespread melanoma metastases to remote skin sites.
E: Evolving And/or Elevated
“E” stands for two different features of melanoma:
- Elevation: Moles are often elevated above the skin, often unevenly so with some parts raised and others flat.
- Evolving: A mole that is evolving is also concerning and, in retrospect, many people with melanomas note that a mole had been changing in terms of size, shape, color, or general appearance before they were diagnosed.
When a melanoma develops in an existing mole, the texture may change and become hard, lumpy, or scaly. Although the skin may feel different and itch, ooze, or bleed, a melanoma does not usually cause pain.
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What Is Metastatic Melanoma
Melanoma often spreads to:
Although in many cases metastatic melanoma canât be cured, treatments and support can help you live longer and better. Doctors have therapies that have greatly increased survival rates. And researchers are working to find new medications that can do even more.
Remember: You still have control over the decisions you make about your treatment and your life. It’s important to have people you can talk to about your plans, your fears, and your feelings. So find support and learn about your treatment options. That will help you make the most of your life.
Red Flag #: Unexplained Weight Loss And Loss Of Appetite
Unintentional weight loss is a common side effect of any cancer. When it comes to melanoma, extreme weight loss usually only happens after the cancer has spread from the skin to other parts of the body. Dr. Zaba says she can sometimes tell if a patients melanoma has metastasized because it looks like they have cachexia, a syndrome marked by drastic loss of fat and muscle and increased weakness. Cachexia can also cause loss of appetite, which further contributes to the problem.
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Can Skin Cancer Be Prevented
Skin cancer is almost entirely preventable. Making a part of your life, avoiding sunburn, and checking your skin regularly will help prevent further damage to your skin.
Protect your skin from UV radiation and help prevent skin cancer by:
- slipping on sun-protective clothing: cover your shoulders, neck, arms, legs and body.
- slopping on sunscreen thats rated SPF 30+ or higher, broad-spectrum and water resistant.
- slapping on a hat that shades your face, neck and ears.
- seeking shade under trees, umbrellas and buildings from direct sunlight and reflective surfaces.
- sliding on sunglasses that wrap around your face to protect your eyes and surrounding skin.
- staying away from sun lamps, solariums or sunbeds, which emit dangerous levels of UV radiation.
UV radiation from the sun varies depending on time of day, season, where you live and cloud coverage. Protect your skin whenever UV Index levels are above 3. Use Cancer Council Australias free SunSmart app to check the UV Index for your area any time.
Most Australians will get enough vitamin D even with sun protection at UV level 3 or above. Babies and children should be protected from the sun, since they are particularly vulnerable to UV radiation harm.
While using fake tanning cream isnt harmful to your skin, it offers no protection from UV radiation. You still need to protect yourself from the sun.
Tools That Can Help You Find Melanoma On Your Skin
To help you find melanoma early, the American Academy of Dermatology developed the following:
Melanoma can look different on a childs skin. Taking this short quiz can help you hone your skills at finding childhood melanoma.
ImagesImages 1,3,4,5,6,7,8,10: Images used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides.
Image 2: Developed by the American Academy of Dermatology
Image 9: Used with permission of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.
ReferencesBarnhill RL, Mihm MC, et al. Malignant melanoma. In: Nouri K, et al. Skin Cancer. McGraw Hill Medical, China, 2008: 140-167.
Gloster HM Jr, Neal K. Skin cancer in skin of color. J Am Acad Dermatol 2006 55:741-60.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network. NCCN guidelines for patients: Melanoma. 2018. Last accessed February 12, 2019.
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