How To Recognize Skin Cancer
This article was medically reviewed by . Dr. Litza is a board certified Family Medicine Physician in Wisconsin. She is a practicing Physician and taught as a Clinical Professor for 13 years, after receiving her MD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health in 1998.There are 8 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been viewed 11,936 times.
Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer but if you catch it early, it can be easy to treat. Skin cancer actually consists of a group of cancers that look and grow differently. Anyone who spends time in the sun is at risk for skin cancer, regardless of skin color or type. To recognize skin cancer, start by examining your body for any spots, moles, or bumps. Then, look closely at these spots for signs that they may be cancerous. Pay attention to any changes in your skin, and have them evaluated by a healthcare professional. You should speak to your doctor for an official diagnosis.
Look Out For An Ugly Duckling
The Ugly Duckling is another warning sign of melanoma. This recognition strategy is based on the concept that most normal moles on your body resemble one another, while melanomas stand out like ugly ducklings in comparison. This highlights the importance of not just checking for irregularities, but also comparing any suspicious spot to surrounding moles to determine whether it looks different from its neighbors. These ugly duckling lesions or outlier lesions can be larger, smaller, lighter or darker, compared to surrounding moles. Also, isolated lesions without any surrounding moles for comparison are considered ugly ducklings.
What The Doctor Is Looking For
- Asymmetry: Not the same shape on both sides
- Border irregularity: Ragged or blurred edges
- Color: Different shades of tan, brown, or black
- Diameter: Larger than 1/4 inch
- Evolving: Changes over time
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Testing For Gene Changes
For some people with melanoma, biopsy samples may be tested to see if the cells have mutations in certain genes, such as the BRAF gene. About half of melanomas have BRAF mutations. Some drugs used to treat advanced melanomas are only likely to work if the cells have BRAF mutations , so this test is important in helping to determine treatment options. Tests for changes in other genes, such as C-KIT, might be done as well.
A newer lab test known as looks at certain gene expression patterns in melanoma cells to help show if early-stage melanomas are likely to spread. This might be used to help determine treatment options. To learn more, see Whats New in Melanoma Skin Cancer Research?
How Is Skin Cancer Detected
More than 40% of melanomas are found by patients themselves.1 The Skin Cancer Foundation and the American Academy of Dermatology recommend that you examine your skin regularly.2,3 Skin self-examinations help you become familiar with the normal marks on your skin. You will be able to spot suspicious skin changes more easily.
A total body skin exam is when your doctor inspects your skin. Dermatologists and some primary care doctors perform these exams if you have an unusual or suspicious growth. If you have had skin cancer, regular skin exams are done to check for recurrence or a second cancer. Your doctor will ask questions about skin changes you have noticed. You will also be asked about your medical history and skin cancer risk factors. Then your doctor will check your skin from head to toe.4 Your doctor may use a dermatoscope. This special magnifying glass allows your doctor to see skin structures. Your doctor may take photographs to monitor certain lesions at follow-up appointments.5 A full body skin exam takes 10 to 20 minutes.
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Excisional And Incisional Biopsies
To examine a tumor that might have grown into deeper layers of the skin, the doctor may use an excisional biopsy.
- An excisional biopsy removes the entire tumor . This is usually the preferred method of biopsy for suspected melanomas if it can be done, although this isnt always possible.
- An incisional biopsy removes only a portion of the tumor.
For these types of biopsies, a surgical knife is used to cut through the full thickness of skin. A wedge or sliver of skin is removed for examination, and the edges of the cut are usually stitched together.
Basal Cell Carcinoma Early Stages
Basal cells are found within the skin and are responsible for producing new skin cells as old ones degenerate. Basal cell carcinoma starts with the appearance of slightly transparent bumps, but they may also show through other symptoms.
In the beginning, a basal cell carcinoma resembles a small bump, similar to a flesh-colored mole or a pimple. The abnormal growths can also look dark, shiny pink, or scaly red in some cases.
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Early Detection Starts With You
When caught and treated early, skin cancers are highly curable. And in the early stages of skin cancer development, youre the one with the best chance to see changes.
Thats why we recommend that you examine your skin head-to-toe every month. Its a simple but powerful way to look at yourself with a new focus that can save your life.
See A Suspicious Spot See A Dermatologist
If you find a spot on your skin that could be skin cancer, its time to see a dermatologist. Found early, skin cancer is highly treatable. Often a dermatologist can treat an early skin cancer by removing the cancer and a bit of normal-looking skin.
Given time to grow, treatment for skin cancer becomes more difficult.
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How Is Skin Cancer Diagnosed
A skin biopsy is needed to diagnose skin cancer. Your doctor removes a sample of skin tissue, which is sent to a laboratory. In the laboratory, a pathologist studies the sample under a microscope. The pathologist looks for abnormal cells that indicate cancer. If it is cancer, the biopsy sample provides important information about the cancer stage.
Lymph node biopsy is done when there are signs of advanced melanoma, such as:
- Swollen, hard, and enlarged lymph nodes.
- Mid-thickness tumor , even without lymph node symptoms.9
Imaging tests are done for advanced melanoma. The purpose is to see whether the cancer has spread to distant parts of the body. Melanoma is most likely to spread to distant lymph nodes, lungs, liver, brain, and bones.10 These areas may be evaluated using:
- Computed tomography , alone or with positron emission tomography
- Chest x-ray
- Magnetic resonance imaging
- If distant metastases are found, a blood test may be done to check your lactate dehydrogenase levels. LDH is an enzyme found in the blood. The results of this test are used to classify Stage IV cancer. High LDH is a sign of cancer that is harder to treat.5
You Can Find Skin Cancer On Your Body
The best way to find skin cancer is to examine yourself. When checking, you want to look at the spots on your skin. And you want to check everywhere from your scalp to the spaces between your toes and the bottoms of your feet.
If possible, having a partner can be helpful. Your partner can examine hard-to-see areas like your scalp and back.
Getting in the habit of checking your skin will help you notice changes. Checking monthly can be beneficial. If you have had skin cancer, your dermatologist can tell you how often you should check your skin.
People of all ages get skin cancer
Checking your skin can help you find skin cancer early when its highly treatable.
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What Tissues Are Affected By Hpv
HPVs infect cells in the basal layer of squamous epithelium at multiple sites in the anogenital tract, including the cervical squamo-columnar junction, the portio surface of the cervix, the upper and lower epithelia of the vagina, multiple sites on the vulva, the perianal and intra-anal mucosa, the penile shaft, and
This Isnt Just A New Test This Is Revolutionary New Technology
Traditional melanoma detection methods are visual. Doctors use their eyes aided by a microscope to see physical changes to a mole, and the cells within it.
A groundbreaking innovation now lets us look past your skins cells deep within your skins genes to find and detect disease earlier and more accurately.
All from cells lifted off your mole with a simple adhesive sticker, not cut out with a scalpel.
We call it Precision Dermatology.
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Blood Tests For Skin Cancer
Skin cancer is a fairly common cancer type. It accounts for nearly 40% of all cancer cases. The three types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma skin cancers. Melanoma cancers cause the most deaths resulting from skin cancer. This is because melanomas tend to spread to nearby tissue and other parts of the body. Diagnosis of skin cancer is done in a medical facility through physical examination, imaging tests, tissue biopsy and blood tests for skin cancer. Skin cancer is highly treatable with early detection.
Where Do You Get Warts From A Hpv Infection
Flat warts are flat-topped, slightly raised lesions. They can appear anywhere, but children usually get them on the face and men tend to get them in the beard area. Women tend to get them on the legs. Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by HPV infections, but cervical cancer may take 20 years or longer to develop after an HPV infection.
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What Tests Do Doctors Use To Make A Skin Cancer Diagnosis
Doctors will usually first perform a visual exam to check for skin cancer. Theyll assess the size, shape, color, and texture of the spots on your skin.
You may also be asked about any symptoms you have and your family history of skin cancer.
If youre seeing your primary care physician, you might be referred to a dermatologist who specializes in skin diseases.
Dermatologists often use special microscopes, magnifying lenses, or other tools to examine a spot more closely. This process is called a dermatoscopy.
Your doctor might also feel your lymph nodes to see if theyre enlarged.
Does Skin Cancer Show Up In Blood Tests
The first major step towards diagnosis of skin cancer is a biopsy. Imaging tests may be used before, during or after a biopsy. Imaging helps your doctor see what is happening beneath your skin, and the extent of disease. It also makes it easier for medical professionals to collect a specimen for skin cancer biopsy tests. Use of imaging technology adds quality to the process of diagnosing and treating skin cancers.
Your healthcare provider or doctor will ask for a blood test if you have skin cancer biopsy positive results. Skin cancer shows up in a number of blood tests. Your doctor will order the tests that you will undergo. A blood sample usually drawn by venipuncture is needed for the tests. Blood tests for skin cancer focus on melanoma skin cancer. The tests help in identifying if a melanoma has spread to other body tissues and organs.
How Cancer Is Diagnosed
X-rays use low doses of radiation to create pictures of the inside of your body.
If you have a symptom or a screening test result that suggests cancer, your doctor must find out whether it is due to cancer or some other cause. The doctor may start by asking about your personal and family medical history and do a physical exam. The doctor also may order lab tests, imaging tests , or other tests or procedures. You may also need a biopsy, which is often the only way to tell for sure if you have cancer.
This page covers tests that are often used to help diagnose cancer. Depending on the symptoms you have, you may have other tests, too. To learn more about how specific cancers are diagnosed, see the PDQ® cancer treatment summaries for adult and childhood cancers. These summaries include detailed information about and pictures of diagnostic tests and procedures for each specific type of cancer.
On This Page
Meet The Smart Sticker That Is Changing Everything
Theres a reason doctors had to cut your skin to test for melanoma. We didnt have another way. Now, thanks to this smart sticker, we do.
An adhesive painlessly lifts skin cells off your mole no need for a scalpel. The sticker is pressed on the mole, then quickly lifted off, carrying your skins RNA material with it.
Now we can see beyond a biopsy with a more accurate, non-invasive test: the DermTech Melanoma Test .
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Abcde Melanoma Detection Guide
A is for Asymmetry
Look for spots that lack symmetry. That is, if a line was drawn through the middle, the two sides would not match up.
B is for Border
A spot with a spreading or irregular edge .
C is for Colour
Blotchy spots with a number of colours such as black, blue, red, white and/or grey.
D is for Diameter
Look for spots that are getting bigger.
E is for Evolving
Spots that are changing and growing.
These are some changes to look out for when checking your skin for signs of any cancer:
- New moles.
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Alternative And Complementary Therapies For Skin Cancer
Once skin cancer is diagnosed, the only acceptable treatment is medical care. Alternative approaches may be useful in cancer prevention and in combating nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and headaches from chemotherapy, radiation, or immunotherapy used to treat advanced skin cancer. Be sure to discuss any alternative treatments you are considering using with your cancer doctor.
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Should I Have Routine Skin Cancer Screenings
While many routine cancer screenings, such as colonoscopies and mammograms, are recommended when a person reaches a certain age, there are no widely adopted age standards for dermatological screenings. Most primary physicians will perform a quick skin check at a routine physical, but we recommend that those with a higher risk for skin cancer have a thorough skin screening by a dermatologist at least once a year. This includes anyone with:
- A family history of melanoma in two or more blood relatives
- Multiple atypical moles
- Numerous actinic keratoses
- An organ transplant
How Does The Doctor Find The Stage Of Skin Cancer
If you have been diagnosed with melanoma, your doctor will:
- Take your medical history.
- Do a thorough physical exam.
- Examine the size, depth, and appearance of the skin cancer.
- Check nearby lymph nodes . Your doctor may do a biopsy of the lymph nodes. To do this, a little tissue is removed and examined.
Based on these exams, your doctor usually has enough information to know if the cancer is in an early or an advanced stage.
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How To Spot A Bcc: Five Warning Signs
Check for BCCs where your skin is most exposed to the sun, especially the face, ears, neck, scalp, chest, shoulders and back, but remember that they can occur anywhere on the body. Frequently, two or more of these warning signs are visible in a BCC tumor.
Please note: Since not all BCCs have the same appearance, these images serve as a general reference to what basal cell carcinoma looks like.
An open sore that does not heal
A reddish patch or irritated area
A small pink growth with a slightly raised, rolled edge and a crusted indentation in the center
A shiny bump or nodule
A scar-like area that is flat white, yellow or waxy in color
The Risks Of Skin Cancer Screening Tests Include The Following:
Finding skin cancer does not always improve health or help you live longer.
False-negative test results can occur.
Screening test results may appear to be normal even though cancer is present. A person who receives a false-negative test result may delay getting medical care even if there are symptoms.
False-positive test results can occur.
A biopsy may cause scarring.
When a skin biopsy is done, the doctor will try to leave the smallest scar possible, but there is a risk of scarring and infection.
Talk to your doctor about your risk for skin cancer and your need for screening tests.
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