What They Look Like
Melanomas in situ tend to be flat and asymmetric with irregular borders. They can be black, brown, tan, gray or even pink if the person has very fair skin. Areas that receive the greatest sun exposure, such as the scalp, face and neck, are more likely to develop melanoma in situ than the arms or legs. However, non-sun exposed areas, such as the buttocks, are also at risk. We dont always understand the causes of these melanomas, though heredity can play a role. To detect melanoma in situ as early as possible, it helps to monitor your own skin. Head-to-toe self-examinations are a good place to start, including the areas where the sun doesnt shine. When evaluating your skin, focus on the ABCDEs of melanoma detection. A stands for asymmetry B for irregular borders C for more than one color D for diameter greater than 6mm , or the size of a pencil eraser and E for evolving, meaning any lesion that is new or changing. View helpful photos showing the ABCDEs of melanoma.
A Mole That Looks Like Its Going Away
Many of us might think that a mole going away on its own is a good thing. But, one sign of skin cancer is when a brown mole starts to lose its color. If your immune system detects and attacks a mole, it may mean that there is some sort of change that has attracted the attention of your immune cells, says Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. This is not always a sign of something serious. But in the case of melanoma, losing color is a worrisome sign. People think a mole has to be changing colors, especially turning dark, to be cancer. Sometimes even a mole losing color could be a sign of cancer, he adds.
What Is A Common Mole
A common mole is a growth on the skin that develops when pigment cells grow in clusters. Most adults have between 10 and 40 common moles. These growths are usually found above the waist on areas exposed to the sun. They are seldom found on the scalp, breast, or buttocks.
Although common moles may be present at birth, they usually appear later in childhood. Most people continue to develop new moles until about age 40. In older people, common moles tend to fade away.
Another name for a mole is a nevus. The plural is nevi.
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Brown Spots And Freckles
Freckles are small flat brown marks that most often appear on the face and other exposed parts of the body in the summer months. They are most often seen in fair-skinned people with red hair but can be seen in people with darker skin colour too. Freckles are formed when the skin is exposed to the sun. Freckles are harmless, but if one starts to look funny compared to others then its best to get it checked out.
Larger, flat, brown spots on the face and hands that start to appear in middle-aged people, known as age spots or liver spots, are properly called solar lentigines. These occur in people of all skin types if they have spent too much time exposed to the sun. Solar lentigines are harmless too but because they can sometimes turn into melanoma it is good to get them checked out, especially if they start to change colour or shape.
How Is Melanoma Diagnosed
The only way to diagnose melanoma is to remove tissue and check it for cancer cells. The doctor will remove all or part of the skin that looks abnormal. Usually, this procedure takes only a few minutes and can be done in a doctor’s office, clinic, or hospital. The sample will be sent to a lab and a pathologist will look at the tissue under a microscope to check for melanoma.
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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.
A Scrape That Wont Heal
Harmless, little lesions can be caused by a myriad of things, from an innocent cat scratch to friction caused by your workout clothes. But, a scrape that appears out of nowhere could also be a sign of something more serious, such as the early stages of a squamous or basal cell. If a sore or scab persists for one month or longer and does not heal as expected, Sarah Walker, a family nurse practitioner at McLean Dermatology & Skincare in McLean, Virginia, recommends that you be evaluated by your healthcare provider. Basal and squamous cell carcinomas are most likely to occur in sun-exposed areas, such as the scalp, face, neck, chest, etc. are easily treatable in their early stages, she says. The larger the tumor has grown, however, the more extensive the treatment needed.
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Possible Signs And Symptoms Of Melanoma
The most important warning sign of melanoma is a new spot on the skin or a spot that is changing in size, shape, or color.
Another important sign is a spot that looks different from all of the other spots on your skin .
If you have one of these warning signs, have your skin checked by a doctor.
The ABCDE rule is another guide to the usual signs of melanoma. Be on the lookout and tell your doctor about spots that have any of the following features:
- A is for Asymmetry: One half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.
- B is for Border:The edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.
- C is for Color:The color is not the same all over and may include different shades of brown or black, or sometimes with patches of pink, red, white, or blue.
- D is for Diameter:The spot is larger than 6 millimeters across , although melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.
- E is for Evolving: The mole is changing in size, shape, or color.
Some melanomas dont fit these rules. Its important to tell your doctor about any changes or new spots on the skin, or growths that look different from the rest of your moles.
Other warning signs are:
- A sore that doesnt heal
- Spread of pigment from the border of a spot into surrounding skin
- Redness or a new swelling beyond the border of the mole
- Change in sensation, such as itchiness, tenderness, or pain
- Change in the surface of a mole scaliness, oozing, bleeding, or the appearance of a lump or bump
Who Gets Skin Cancer And Why
Sun exposure is the biggest cause of skin cancer. But it doesn’t explain skin cancers that develop on skin not ordinarily exposed to sunlight. Exposure to environmental hazards, radiation treatment, and even heredity may play a role. Although anyone can get skin cancer, the risk is greatest for people who have:
- Fair skin or light-colored eyes
- An abundance of large and irregularly-shaped moles
- A family history of skin cancer
- A history of excessive sun exposure or blistering sunburns
- Lived at high altitudes or with year-round sunshine
- Received radiation treatments
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What Does A Common Mole Look Like
A common mole is usually smaller than about 5 millimeters wide . It is round or oval, has a smooth surface with a distinct edge, and is often dome-shaped. A common mole usually has an even color of pink, tan, or brown. People who have dark skin or hair tend to have darker moles than people with fair skin or blonde hair. Several photos of common moles are shown here, and more photos are available on the What Does a Mole Look Like? page.
Common Mole Photos
This common mole is 1 millimeter in diameter .
This common mole is 2 millimeters in diameter .
This common mole is about 5 millimeters in diameter .
This common mole is about 5 millimeters in diameter .
This common mole is about 5 millimeters in diameter .
Basal Cell And Squamous Cell Carcinomasigns And Symptoms
The most common warning sign of skin cancer is a change on the skin, especially a new growth or a sore that doesn’t heal. The cancer may start as a small, smooth, shiny, pale or waxy lump. It also may appear as a firm red lump. Sometimes, the lump bleeds or develops a crust.
Both basal and squamous cell cancers are found mainly on areas of the skin that are exposed to the sun the head, face, neck, hands and arms. But skin cancer can occur anywhere.
An early warning sign of skin cancer is the development of an actinic keratosis, a precancerous skin lesion caused by chronic sun exposure. These lesions are typically pink or red in color and rough or scaly to the touch. They occur on sun-exposed areas of the skin such as the face, scalp, ears, backs of hands or forearms.
Actinic keratoses may start as small, red, flat spots but grow larger and become scaly or thick, if untreated. Sometimes they’re easier to feel than to see. There may be multiple lesions next to each other.
Early treatment of actinic keratoses may prevent them from developing into cancer. These precancerous lesions affect more than 10 million Americans. People with one actinic keratosis usually develop more. Up to 1 percent of these lesions can develop into a squamous cell cancer.
Basal cell carcinoma is the most commonly diagnosed skin cancer. In recent years, there has been an upturn in the diagnoses among young women and the rise is blamed on sunbathing and tanning salons.
- Raised, dull-red skin lesion
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Tips For Screening Moles For Cancer
Examine your skin on a regular basis. A common location for melanoma in men is on the back, and in women, the lower leg. But check your entire body for moles or suspicious spots once a month. Start at your head and work your way down. Check the “hidden” areas: between fingers and toes, the groin, soles of the feet, the backs of the knees. Check your scalp and neck for moles. Use a handheld mirror or ask a family member to help you look at these areas. Be especially suspicious of a new mole. Take a photo of moles and date it to help you monitor them for change. Pay special attention to moles if you’re a teen, pregnant, or going through menopause, times when your hormones may be surging.
Where Does Bcc Develop
As the above pictures show, this skin cancer tends to develop on skin that has had lots of sun exposure, such as the face or ears. Its also common on the bald scalp and hands. Other common areas for BCC include, the shoulders, back, arms, and legs.
While rare, BCC can also form on parts of the body that get little or no sun exposure, such as the genitals.
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What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Actinic Keratosis
An actinic keratosis develops when skin has been badly damaged by ultraviolet light from the sun or indoor tanning.
Signs of actinic keratosis
The brown spots on this mans face may look like age spots, but theyre actually actinic keratoses.
Left untreated, some actinic keratoses turn into a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. Thats why its important to know if you have any of these precancerous growths on your skin.
The following pictures show some diverse ways that it can appear.
An Irregular Eye Exam
Although melanoma of the eye is rare, its the most common type of eye cancer in adults, according to Walker. This condition is often found during a routine eye exam. is most common in people with fair skin or blue eyes, she says. Symptoms may include changes in the color of your iris, vision changes , red, swollen eyes, or small defects that can be seen on your iris or conjunctiva.
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What Is Skin Cancer
Skin cancer is the most prevalent form of all cancers in the United States and is identified when the cells that make up our skin begin to grow and rapidly divide in a disorganized manner. There are 3 main types of skin cancer:
- Basal cell carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are the most common types of skin cancer and may also sometimes be referred to as “non-melanoma skin cancer.”
Melanoma is not as common as basal cell or squamous cell carcinomas, but is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. If left untreated or caught in a late stage, melanomas are more likely to spread to organs beyond the skin, making it difficult to treat and increasing the chances of death from skin cancer.
Fortunately, if skin cancer is identified and treated early, most are cured. This is why it is important to take a few safeguards and to talk with your healthcare provider if you think you are showing any signs of skin cancer.
Other Cancers On The Face
A few other rare skin cancers that might happen on the face:
- Lymphoma of the skin is an uncommon type of white blood cell cancer.
- Kaposi’s sarcoma is cancer caused by a herpes virus in immunosuppressed patients that causes skin lesions on the face. They look like painless purplish spots.
- Skin adnexal tumors is a rare cancer type that starts in hair follicles or skin glands.
- Sarcomas are tumors of the connective tissuesspecifically the fat, nerves, bone, skin, and muscles 80% of which occur in the face, head, or neck.
- Cutaneous leiomyosarcoma is an uncommon soft-tissue sarcoma that can happen on the face.
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How To Diagnose Skin Cancer
First, a doctor will examine a personâs skin and take their medical history. They will usually ask the person when the mark first appeared, if its appearance has changed, if it is ever painful or itchy, and if it bleeds.
The doctor will also ask about the personâs family history and any other risk factors, such as lifetime sun exposure.
They may also check the rest of the body for other atypical moles and spots. Finally, they may feel the lymph nodes to determine whether or not they are enlarged.
The doctor may then refer a person to a skin doctor, or dermatologist. They may examine the mark with a dermatoscope, which is a handheld magnifying device, and take a small sample of skin, or a biopsy, and send it to a laboratory to check for signs of cancer.
The Ugly Duckling Method
The ugly duckling method works on the premise that a personâs moles tend to resemble one another. If one mole stands out in any way, it may indicate skin cancer.
Of course, not all moles and growths are cancerous. However, if a person notices any of the above characteristics, they should speak with a doctor.
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What Is A Melanocyte
Melanocytes are skin cells found in the upper layer of skin. They produce a pigment known as melanin, which gives skin its color. There are two types of melanin: eumelanin and pheomelanin. When skin is exposed to ultraviolet radiation from the sun or tanning beds, it causes skin damage that triggers the melanocytes to produce more melanin, but only the eumelanin pigment attempts to protect the skin by causing the skin to darken or tan. Melanoma occurs when DNA damage from burning or tanning due to UV radiation triggers changes in the melanocytes, resulting in uncontrolled cellular growth.
Naturally darker-skinned people have more eumelanin and naturally fair-skinned people have more pheomelanin. While eumelanin has the ability to protect the skin from sun damage, pheomelanin does not. Thats why people with darker skin are at lower risk for developing melanoma than fair-skinned people who, due to lack of eumelanin, are more susceptible to sun damage, burning and skin cancer.
What Should People Do If They Have A Dysplastic Nevus
Everyone should protect their skin from the sun and stay away from sunlamps and tanning booths, but for people who have dysplastic nevi, it is even more important to protect the skin and avoid getting a suntan or sunburn.
In addition, many doctors recommend that people with dysplastic nevi check their skin once a month . People should tell their doctor if they see any of the following changes in a dysplastic nevus :
- The color changes.
- It gets smaller or bigger.
- It changes in shape, texture, or height.
- The skin on the surface becomes dry or scaly.
- It becomes hard or feels lumpy.
- It starts to itch.
- It bleeds or oozes.
Another thing that people with dysplastic nevi should do is get their skin examined by a doctor . Sometimes people or their doctors take photographs of dysplastic nevi so changes over time are easier to see . For people with many dysplastic nevi, doctors may conduct a skin exam once or twice a year because of the moderately increased chance of melanoma. For people who also have a family history of melanoma, doctors may suggest a more frequent skin exam, such as every 3 to 6 months .
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What Does Skin Cancer Look Like
Skin cancer doesnt alwayslook scary.
It also doesnt always look the same. It can be brown, red, or even black.
We tend to think of skin cancer as misshapen dark spots. This describes melanoma, the most dangerous kind, but not the most common form of skin cancer.
One in five Americans developsbasal cell skin cancer, or squamous cell skin cancer, which often look more like red, scaly, non-healing sores. These cancers dont pose the same risk as melanoma, but its important to catch them early.
So, how do you know if you have eczema, a freckle, or skin cancer?
You wont, because youre not an expert. This is where your dermatologist plays a vital role. They have the expertise to differentiate these similar-looking lesions and make a proper diagnosis.