How To Detect Skin Cancer
When it comes to skin cancer, we have some good news and some bad news.
First, the bad news: skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States. Each year, nearly 5 million people are treated for skin cancer, and in the last three decades, more Americans have had skin cancer than all other cancers combined.
But heres the good news: You can often see the early warning signs of skin cancer…without an x-ray or blood test or special diagnostic procedure. If you know what to look for and take action when you see it, most skin cancers can be detected and treated at early stages, when they are most curable.
Even for melanoma, a more dangerous skin cancer type that is more likely to spread to other body areas, the five-year survival rate is 99% for people whose melanoma is detected and treated before it spreads to the lymph nodes.
Screening For Skin Cancer
Again, the best way to screen for skin cancer is knowing your own skin. If you are familiar with the freckles, moles, and other blemishes on your body, you are more likely to notice quickly if something seems unusual.
To help spot potentially dangerous abnormalities, doctors recommend doing regular self-exams of your skin at home. Ideally, these self-exams should happen once a month, and should involve an examination of all parts of your body. Use a hand-held mirror and ask friends or family for help so as to check your back, scalp, and other hard-to-see areas of skin. If you or someone else notices a change on your skin, set up a doctors appointment to get a professional opinion.
There Are Three Ways That Cancer Spreads In The Body
- Tissue. The cancer spreads from where it began by growing into nearby areas.
- Lymph system. The cancer spreads from where it began by getting into the lymph system. The cancer travels through the lymph vessels to other parts of the body.
- Blood. The cancer spreads from where it began by getting into the blood. The cancer travels through the blood vessels to other parts of the body.
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Skin Warning Sign #: Changes In Your Skins Appearance
The most obvious skin cancer warning sign is that you should watch out for changes in the appearance of your skin, like moles or lesions.
You can identify potential skin cancers in any part of your skin by using the ABCDE method:
- Asymmetry Look for any abnormalities including irregular shapes
- Border Check if the mole or spot has an irregular or poorly defined border
- Colour Any uneven colours of black, brown, pink, red, and white on your skin can be a sign
- Diameter Check for changes in the size and diameter of spots
- Evolving Any moles or spots that have grown or changed in any way over time
Consider Getting A Second Opinion On Pathology
The first step in diagnosing skin cancer is a skin biopsy. The tissue sample taken during the biopsy is sent to a pathologist, who then examines the cells under a microscope. Pathologists are usually certain about their diagnoses. But there are instances when the cancer cells look unusual or the pathology is inconclusive for some other reason.
How do you know if you need a second opinion if no one has told you to get one? Start by asking your doctor, says Dr. Lee. One way you might phrase the question is, Was the pathology definitive? If the doctor says no, thats your cue to seek out a second opinion on your pathology.
You can also review the pathology report yourself. Sometimes the report will say the diagnosis is inconclusive. Also be on the lookout for phrases such as most in keeping with or features of, says Dr. Lee. This is terminology indicating that the pathologist formed a hypothesis but wasnt absolutely certain.
One of the benefits of coming to MSK for care is that we review the pathology, says Dr. Lee. Most of the time we confirm the original diagnosis, but occasionally we do see differences.
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What Should I Do If I Have A Suspicious Spot
Make an appointment with your physician or a dermatologist as soon as possible. If your physician sees something of concern, he or she will usually refer you to a dermatologist. While there are sometimes waiting lists for routine dermatology appointments, in cases where skin cancer is suspected, most dermatologists, including those at Roswell Park, will get you in for a screening as soon as possible.
As part of the physical exam, dermatologists use a dermatoscope, a special magnifying lens and light source held near the skin. If an area is suspicious, the physician will take a biopsy, removing all or part of the abnormal area for examination by a pathologist. At Roswell Park, our dermatopathologists pathologists who specialize in skin cancers conduct the laboratory examination and testing of the tissue. The biopsy is usually a minor procedure that includes numbing the area to be tested.
If the diagnosis is melanoma or certain types of squamous cell carcinoma, which have a risk of spreading, additional testing may be required to learn whether the cancer has grown deeper in the skin or has spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body. These tests may include blood tests, imaging such as MRI, CT or PET scans or procedures, such as lymph node biopsy or removal.
Get To Know Your Skin
It is also a good idea to talk to your doctor about your level of risk and for advice on early detection.
It’s important to get to know your skin and what is normal for you, so that you notice any changes. Skin cancers rarely hurt and are much more frequently seen than felt.
Develop a regular habit of checking your skin for new spots and changes to existing freckles or moles.
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What Are The Symptoms Of Skin Cancer
Talk to your doctor if you notice changes in your skin such as a new growth, a sore that doesnt heal, a change in an old growth, or any of the A-B-C-D-Es of melanoma.
A change in your skin is the most common sign of skin cancer. This could be a new growth, a sore that doesnt heal, or a change in a mole.external icon Not all skin cancers look the same.
For melanoma specifically, a simple way to remember the warning signs is to remember the A-B-C-D-Es of melanoma
- A stands for asymmetrical. Does the mole or spot have an irregular shape with two parts that look very different?
- B stands for border. Is the border irregular or jagged?
- C is for color. Is the color uneven?
- D is for diameter. Is the mole or spot larger than the size of a pea?
- E is for evolving. Has the mole or spot changed during the past few weeks or months?
Talk to your doctor if you notice changes in your skin such as a new growth, a sore that doesnt heal, a change in an old growth, or any of the A-B-C-D-Es of melanoma.
Should I Use A Skin Cancer Detection App
Anything that reminds you to look for signs of skin cancer is a good thing. However, some smartphone apps claim to be able to assess certain skin changes and inform individuals whether such changes warrant a visit to a dermatologist for further analysis.
Thus far, the accuracy of these is not high enough and relying solely on an app, rather than on your own observations and visits to a doctor, you could put yourself at risk by delaying a visit to the doctor when one is warranted. In one recent study, the most accurate skin cancer detection app missed almost 30% of melanomas, diagnosing them as low-risk lesions.
However, these apps are evolving, and one day they could become part of the arsenal to help detect skin cancer. Smartphones can be useful in terms of telemedicine. For instance, in locations where dermatologists may not be readily available, a local physician can send a photo of a suspicious mole to a dermatologist and based on visual inspection and communication with that physician, determine what steps to take next.
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A Primer On Skin Cancer
Malignant melanoma, especially in the later stages, is serious and treatment is difficult. Early diagnosis and treatment can increase the survival rate. Nonmelanoma skin cancers include basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Both are common and are almost always cured when found early and treated. People who’ve had skin cancer once are at risk for getting it again they should get a checkup at least once a year.
How Can I Detect Skin Cancer
The first answer is to simply look at your skin. Because you see your skin every day, you are detector number one. By knowing what is normal for your skin, and then thoroughly inspecting it on a regular usually monthly basis, many skin cancers can be self- detected.
When examining your skin, take note of all existing spots, moles and freckles on your skin, so that youll know when changes occur or a new one appears. You can track these easily with this body mole map from the American Academy of Dermatology. Stand in front of mirror and examine your front and back, head to toe. Bend your elbows and look carefully at your forearms, palms and the back of your upper arms. Use a hand mirror to check the back of your neck, scalp, buttocks and other hard-to-see places. Dont forget the bottoms of your feet and between your toes.
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If You Find A Spot You’re Concerned About See A Doctor
“If someone has a concern about a spot, I encourage them to go see a dermatologist,” Arthur said. “Because that’s what we’re here for.”
“Does it need to be necessarily looked at today? No. But you should make your appointment and try to get in as soon as you can,” she said.
And don’t assume you’re exempt from skin cancer just because you’re not an 80-year-old, fair-skinned, tanning bed addict covered in moles. Yes, the risk is higher in people with light skin, but skin cancer can happen to anyone, according to the National Cancer Institute even those with dark skin and those who are young.
“Melanoma is the second most common form of cancer in women ages 15 to 29,” Arthur said. “Skin cancer is not just a cancer of the elderly. “
What Should I Look For
Not all skin cancers look the same. In fact, skin cancers can show up in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes they might even look like other skin conditions. Many skin cancers are more common on parts of the body that tend to get more sun, such as the face, head, neck, and arms. But skin cancers can occur anywhere on the body.
Some of the more common ways in which skin cancers can appear include:
- A new, expanding, or changing growth, spot, or bump on the skin
- A sore that bleeds and/or doesnt heal after several weeks
- A rough or scaly red patch, which might crust or bleed
- A wart-like growth
- A mole thats new or changing in size, shape, or color
- A mole with an odd shape, irregular borders, or areas of different colors
But its important to understand that these are not the only ways skin cancer can appear. To learn more about what skin cancer might look like, see:
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Skin Warning Sign #: Scaly Patches Of Skin
Scaly, dry, and rough patches in your skin may not be a cause of concern straight away, but if you start frequently applying moisturiser which isnt effective at all, then you need to seek medical attention.
Any persistent itching of your skin is also an area of concern.
Never ignore an itching sensation and if it is accompanied by a change in appearance, you should consult a skin expert right away.
Types Of Skin Cancer:
Basal Cell found mainly in areas exposed to the sun, very common and usually very treatable. Detected at an early stage and removed promptly are almost always curable and cause minimal damage.Squamous Cell typically develops in chronic sun-exposed areas of your body.Melanoma more likely to grow and spread than the more common typesMerkel Cell very rare and tends to grow quickly, may be hard to treat if it spreads past beyond the skin
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What Are The Treatments For Basal Cell Carcinoma
BCC is treated by removing it. The choice of treatment depends on many things, including patient health and age, the location of the tumor, and the extent and type of the cancer. Treatment may occur in many ways:
- Scratching off with a curette, an instrument that may end in a ring or a spoon, and then burning with a special electric needle. This method is called electrodessication and curettage.
- Surgical removal
- Mohs surgery: This is a specialized technique. The doctor first removes the visible cancer and then begins cutting around the edges. The tissues are examined during the surgery until no more cancer cells are found in tissues around the wound. If necessary, a skin graft or flap might be applied to help the wound heal.
- Excisional surgery: The growth and a bit of surrounding skin is removed with a scalpel.
If the BCC has advanced locally or spread to another location, which is very rare for BCC, the FDA has approved two medicines: vismodegib and sonidegib . These drugs are of a class called hedgehog inhibitors.
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.
Less Common Skin Cancers
Uncommon types of skin cancer include Kaposi’s sarcoma, mainly seen in people with weakened immune systems sebaceous gland carcinoma, an aggressive cancer originating in the oil glands in the skin and Merkel cell carcinoma, which is usually found on sun-exposed areas on the head, neck, arms, and legs but often spreads to other parts of the body.
Book A Professional Skin Check
One of the best and simplest ways to prevent skin cancer is with regular skin checks with a professional.
Skin tests are done to check and inspect your skin. A skin expert will have a list of questions about any skin changes that you notice on that part of your skin. Medical history and skin cancer factors are also considered.
Your doctor may use a dermatoscope or a magnifying glass to examine your skin and may even take photos of moles or lesions for reference.
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Skin Cancer On The Face: Types And Prevention
Casey Gallagher, MD, is board-certified in dermatology. He is a clinical professor at the University of Colorado in Denver, and co-founder and practicing dermatologist at the Boulder Valley Center for Dermatology in Colorado.
Because it is exposed to the sun more than other parts of the body, the skin on your face is especially vulnerable to skin cancer. And skin cancer on the face can be mistaken for other conditionssuch as age spots, pimples, scarring, acne, styes, and cysts.
Skin cancers that tend to occur more often on the face include actinic keratosis, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma. The face is also a common site of melanoma and there are several other lesser-common skin cancers that can affect the face. The risk of getting skin cancers on the face increases with high amounts of sun exposure and other ultraviolet light exposure.
About 75% of non-melanoma skin cancers occur on the head or neck.
Skin cancer occurs when cells in the skin’s layers become damaged in ways that cause them to look and act differently than the normal healthy cells around them and start to grow out of control. UV rays play a major role in damaging cells by causing gene mutations.
You can watch for signs of skin cancer on your face by paying attention to new or odd-looking spots or feeling growths, splotches, or moles.
Preparing For Your Appointment
If you have any concerns about the health of your skin, it is important to share them with your doctor. After making an appointment, there are steps you can take to prepare yourself and make the most of your time with your doctor.
Here are some things to consider and be prepared to discuss before visiting the clinic or hospital:
What symptoms are you experiencing ?
When did you first notice your symptoms?
Have there been any major changes or stressors in your life recently?
What medications and/or vitamins are you taking?
What questions do you have for your doctor?
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