How To Spot Skin Cancer
Skin cancer is by far the most common type of cancer. If you know what to look for, you can spot warning signs of skin cancer early. Finding it early, when its small and has not spread, makes skin cancer much easier to treat.
Some doctors and other health care professionals include skin exams as part of routine health check-ups. Many doctors also recommend that you check your own skin about once a month. Look at your skin in a well-lit room in front of a full-length mirror. Use a hand-held mirror to look at areas that are hard to see.
Use the ABCDE rule to look for some of the common signs of melanoma, one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer:
AsymmetryOne part of a mole or birthmark doesnt match the other.
BorderThe edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.
ColorThe color is not the same all over and may include shades of brown or black, sometimes with patches of pink, red, white, or blue.
DiameterThe spot is larger than ¼ inch across about the size of a pencil eraser although melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.
EvolvingThe mole is changing in size, shape, or color.
Basal and squamous cell skin cancers are more common than melanomas, but they are usually very treatable.
Both basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas, or cancers, usually grow on parts of the body that get the most sun, such as the face, head, and neck. But they can show up anywhere.
Basal cell carcinomas: what to look for:
Squamous cell carcinomas: what to look for:
What Is My Skin Type
Skin types that are more sensitive to ultraviolet radiation burn more quickly and are at a greater risk of skin cancer.
All skin types can be damaged by too much UV radiation. Skin types that are more sensitive to UV radiation burn more quickly and are at a greater risk of skin cancer.
People with naturally very dark skin still need to take care in the sun even though they may rarely, if ever, get sunburnt. The larger amount of melanin in very dark skin provides natural protection from UV radiation. This means the risk of skin cancer is lower.
Eye damage can occur regardless of skin type. High levels of UV radiation have also been linked to harmful effects on the immune system.
Vitamin D deficiency may be a greater health concern for people with naturally very dark skin, as it is more difficult for people with this skin type to make vitamin D.
Causes And Risk Factors
Researchers do not know why certain cells become cancerous. However, they have identified some risk factors for skin cancer.
The most important risk factor for melanoma is exposure to UV rays. These damage the skin cellsâ DNA, which controls how the cells grow, divide, and stay alive.
Most UV rays come from sunlight, but they also come from tanning beds.
Some other risk factors for skin cancer include:
- A lot of moles: A person with more than 100 moles is more likely to develop melanoma.
- Fair skin, light hair, and freckles: The risk of developing melanoma is higher among people with fair skin. Those who burn easily have an increased risk.
- Family history:
The best way to reduce the risk of skin cancer is to limit oneâs exposure to UV rays. A person can do this by using sunscreen, seeking shade, and covering up when outdoors.
People should also avoid tanning beds and sunlamps to reduce their risk of skin cancer.
It can be easy to mistake benign growths for skin cancer.
The following skin conditions have similar symptoms to skin cancer:
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What Causes Skin Cancer
Almost all skin cancers in Australia are caused by too much exposure to UV radiation. This is the part of sunlight that causes tanning, sunburn and skin damage over time. UV radiation also comes from non-natural sources such as sun beds .
While anyone can get skin cancer, it is more common if you are older. The risk is also higher if you have:
- previously had skin cancer or have family history of skin cancer
- fair or freckled skin, particularly if it burns easily or doesnt tan
- red or fair hair and light-coloured eyes
- a weakened immune system
- sunspots or irregular moles on your body
- worked, played sport or spent leisure time in the sun
- actively tan or use sun beds
If you have olive or dark skin, your skin produces more melanin, which protects against UV radiation. However, its still possible for you to develop skin cancer.
How To Self Check For Skin Cancer
Get to know your skin by checking it regularly. Particularly if you are over 50, have a family history of skin cancer or have had any bad sunburns as a child.
Our Guide to Check Your Own Skin for Skin Cancer
It is recommended that all New Zealanders get into the habit of checking their skin so they can spot skin cancer early where there is a better chance of successful treatment. Ask your friend, use a mirror or ask a relative to look at the parts you cant see. Its easy to check your skin and should only take 15 30 minutes. Just follow these steps.
- Check your whole body from head to toe, front, back and sides.
- Your head and neckdont forget your scalp, ears, face and lips.
- The trunk, front back and sides.
- Your arms and hands, including nails.
- The soles of your feet, between your toes and nails.
- Check your buttocks and legs.
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Symptoms On Black And Brown Skin
On dark skin, it may be easier to feel a lesion than see it. People with black skin may be more likely to find a lesion on a part of the body that has little exposure to the sun, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.
Skin cancer can affect people with any skin color, but those with brown or black skin are more likely to receive a diagnosis at a later stage. This may be due to a lack of awareness of how skin cancer appears on skin colors other than white.
Anyone who notices an unusual change in their skin should seek medical advice as soon as possible.
The medical community has developed two ways to spot the early symptoms of melanoma. This is the most dangerous type of skin cancer.
A person can use the ABCDE method or the ugly duckling method.
Screening For Skin Cancer
There is no national screening programme for non melanoma skin cancer in the UK. This is because non melanoma skin cancer most commonly develops in areas of the skin exposed to the sun. So people usually spot them in plenty of time to have successful treatment.
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Where Within The Skin Layers Does Skin Cancer Develop
Where skin cancer develops specifically, in which skin cells is tied to the types and names of skin cancers.
Most skin cancers begin in the epidermis, your skins top layer. The epidermis contains three main cell types:
- Squamous cells: These are flat cells in the outer part of the epidermis. They constantly shed as new cells form. The skin cancer that can form in these cells is called squamous cell carcinoma.
- Basal cells: These cells lie beneath the squamous cells. They divide, multiply and eventually get flatter and move up in the epidermis to become new squamous cells, replacing the dead squamous cells that have sloughed off. Skin cancer that begins in basal cells is called basal cell carcinoma.
- Melanocytes: These cells make melanin, the brown pigment that gives skin its color and protects your skin against some of the suns damaging UV rays. Skin cancer that begins in melanocytes is called melanoma.
Treatment Of Skin Cancer
In choosing the best treatment option, your doctor will consider your age and general health, the type and size of cancer, where it is on your body and what you want. The treatment choice will also depend on whether the skin cancer has spread elsewhere in your body.
Types of further treatment include:
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What Is Skin Cancer
Cancer is the name given to diseases that cause cells in a specific part of the body to grow and multiply rapidly. Skin cancer is cancer that develops in the skin cells. There are different types of skin cancer.
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer. This type of skin cancer can appear as a lump or scaling area of skin, which is red, pale or pearly in colour. The spot may become ulcerated and not heal. Basal cell carcinomas often grow on the head, neck or upper body. They tend to grow slowly, without spreading to other parts of the body.
Squamous cell carcinomas appear as a thickened, red, scaly spot. These spots might bleed easily or ulcerate. They appear in places that are most often exposed to the sun. Squamous cell carcinomas grow slowly over months and can spread to other parts of the body if left untreated.
Melanoma is the most dangerous skin cancer. If not treated, it can spread to other parts of the body, often including the lymph nodes, liver, lungs, bones or brain, and can be deadly. Melanoma might appear as a new spot, or they might grow in an existing spot, freckle or mole. They can be flat on the skin or stick out. A melanoma will often have an irregular outline and be more than one colour.
You can see more pictures of the different types of skin cancer here. If you notice a change in your skin that doesnt look like one of these pictures, you should still have your doctor take a look just in case.
What Areas Of The Body Should I Pay Close Attention To
For men, Dr. Hartman says, the most neglected area is the back, while women should be more diligent about checking their legs. In general, though, most people forget to check their palms and soles, which Dr. Hartman says are notorious locations for melanoma. Moles there often go undetected, theyre diagnosed at a later stage and they spread before biopsies and evaluations can take place to stop them, Dr. Hartman says. Check between your toes, your fingers, on your palms and soles, and on the back and backs of your legs where skin cancers like basal cells and squamous cells happen more commonly.
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When Should You Get Moles Checked Instead Of Using An App
If you have a specific mole or lesion that you are concerned about today and you havent had it examined by a doctor, we do not recommend you to rely on any app to check this mole. Instead you should book an appointment with a doctor to get this mole or lesion checked.
You can then follow your doctors instructions and learn whether monitoring this mole or lesion for changes with Miiskin and if taking full-body photos for overall skin monitoring would be beneficial to you.
You can use Miiskin to holistically check your moles for changes by routinely taking photos of the same moles over time as well as take full-body photos for overall monitoring of as many moles as possible and to look out for new lesions. You can then later present photos to your doctor if you spot any changes.
How To Perform A Skin Self
Examine your body in a full-length mirror
Examine your body front and back in the mirror, then look at the right and left sides with your arms raised.
Look at your underarms, forearms, and palms
Bend elbows and look carefully at forearms, underarms, and palms.
Look at your legs, between toes, and soles of your feet
Look at the backs of your legs and feet, the spaces between your toes, and the soles of your feet.
Use a hand mirror to examine your neck and scalp
Examine the back of your neck and scalp with a hand mirror. Part hair for a closer look.
Use a hand mirror to check your back and buttocks
Finally, check your back and buttocks with a hand mirror.
Related AAD resources
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How Do You Check Moles With The App
Miiskin contains a handy side-by-side comparison tool directly in the app that you can use to compare your follow-up photos against your baseline photos to see if there has been any visual changes.
For your full-body photos it is beneficial to take advantage of Miiskins Web Compare tool. Web Compare allows you to view your full-body photos on a desktop computer or tablet, so you get the benefit of a larger screen size when you compare your full-body photos side-by-side to see if any lesions have changed or if any new lesions have appeared on your skin.
How Can You Prevent Skin Cancer
In addition to regular self skin exams, you should also have a skin exam by your primary care physician or a dermatologist each year. Tell your health care provider about any risk factors, including: sun exposure, use of indoor tanning devices, age, prior skin cancer or family history, and other health conditions.
Using sunscreen and limiting exposure to the sun during peak sun hours by seeking shade and avoiding direct sun are the easiest ways to help prevent skin cancer. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that filters both ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B rays and offers a sun protection factor of 30 or higher every day, even in the winter and on cloudy days. Apply liberally and reapply every 2 hours. In addition, wearing sunglasses with 100 percent UV protection, as well as a wide-brimmed hat, is recommended.
Vinod E. Nambudiri, MD, MBA, is a dermatologist in the Department of Dermatology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Instructor in Dermatology at Harvard Medical School.
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Is There An App To Detect Skin Cancer
Miiskins does not provide any AI assessments or diagnoses of any kind. It is important that you get any moles or lesions, you are explicitly concerned about, checked out by a doctor and to not rely on any apps to replace a doctors examination of your skin. Miiskin can be used to visually keep track of any changes on your skin and moles but it is the job of a doctor to examine moles and other lesions for any signs of cancer. You can read more about the topic of skin cancer apps.
Get started now or dive into Frequently Asked Questions about Miiskin.
Does Skin Cancer Affect People With Skin Of Color
People of all skin tones can develop skin cancer. If you are a person of color, you may be less likely to get skin cancer because you have more of the brown pigment, melanin, in your skin.
Although less prevalent than in nonwhite people, when skin cancer does develop in people of color, its often found late and has a worse prognosis. If youre Hispanic, the incidence of melanoma has risen by 20% in the past two decades. If youre Black and develop melanoma, your five-year survival rate is 25% lower than it is for white people . Part of the reason may be that it develops in less typical, less sun-exposed areas and its often in late-stage when diagnosed.
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How To Do A Skin Self
You dont need x-rays or blood tests to find skin cancer early just your eyes and a mirror. If you have skin cancer, finding it early is the best way to make sure it can be treated successfully.
Although the American Cancer Society does not have guidelines for the early detection of skin cancer, many doctors recommend checking your own skin regularly, typically once a month.
Regular skin self-exams are especially important for people who are at higher risk of skin cancer, such as people with reduced immunity, people who have had skin cancer before, and people with a strong family history of skin cancer. Talk to your doctor about how often you should examine your skin.
A skin self-exam is best done in a well-lit room in front of a full-length mirror. You can use a hand-held mirror to look at areas that are hard to see, such as the backs of your thighs. A spouse, partner, or close friend or family member may be able to help you with these exams, especially for those hard-to-see areas like your back or scalp.
The first time you examine your skin, spend time carefully going over the entire surface. Learn the pattern of moles, blemishes, freckles, and other marks on your skin so that youll notice any changes next time. Be sure to show your doctor any areas that concern you.
Follow these step-by-step instructions to examine your skin:
When Should I See My Healthcare Provider
Make an appointment to see your healthcare provider or dermatologist as soon as you notice:
- Any changes to your skin or changes in the size, shape or color of existing moles or other skin lesions.
- The appearance of a new growth on your skin.
- A sore that doesnt heal.
- Spots on your skin that are different from others.
- Any spots that change, itch or bleed.
Your provider will check your skin, take a biopsy , make a diagnosis and discuss treatment. Also, see your dermatologist annually for a full skin review.
Know What To Look For
The most important thing to look for when performing a self-check is change. You are looking for any new spots that may have appeared, or changes to existing marks and moles. You may notice the surface of your mole becoming scaly, rough, or ulcerated or it may begin to itch, tingle, bleed, or weep. All are important signs to get checked.
Its helpful to consider the Cancer CouncilsABCDE melanoma detection guide when performing a self-check.
- A is for Asymmetry: Uneven spots that if a line was drawn through its middle, would not have mirroring sides
- B is for Border: Flag any spots with an irregular edge or that appears to be spreading
- C is for Colour: consistency is good, notice any blotchy spots with multiple colours like black, blue, red, white and/or grey
- D is for Diameter: Are your spots growing or getting bigger?
- E is for Evolving: Are your spots changing at all?