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What Can Be Mistaken For Skin Cancer

How Can I Lower My Risk Of Skin Cancer

VIDEO: How to identify skin cancer

The single most important thing you can do to lower your risk of skin cancer is to avoid direct sun exposure. Sunlight produces ultraviolet radiation that can directly damage the cells of our skin. People who work outdoors are at the highest risk of developing a skin cancer. The suns rays are the most powerful between 10 am and 2 pm, so you must be particularly careful during those hours. If you must be out during the day, wear clothing that covers as much of your skin as possible, including a wide-brimmed hat to block the sun from your face, scalp, neck, and ears.

The use of a sunscreen can provide protection against UV radiation. When selecting a sunscreen, choose one with a Sun Protection Factor of 15 or more. For people who live in the Southern U.S., a SPF of 30 or greater should be used during summer and when prolonged exposure is anticipated. Sunscreen should be applied before exposure and when the skin is dry. If you will be sweating or swimming, most sunscreens will need to be reapplied. Sunscreen products do not completely block the damaging rays, but they do allow you to be in the sun longer without getting sunburn.

Seek Comprehensive Care If Your Skin Cancer Is Complicated To Treat

Complicated skin cancer may require the expertise of multiple specialists. Plastic surgeons may get involved when the cosmetic challenges are significant. An ocular surgeon or an oculoplastic specialist may be needed if you have an especially difficult-to-treat skin cancer close to the eye. A head and neck surgeon may join your care team if there is nerve involvement or if the cancer is too extensive for local anesthesia.

The beauty of a comprehensive cancer center like MSK is that the expertise is all here, says Dr. Lee. We have a multidisciplinary program especially for people with complex skin cancer. You can usually see all of your doctors on the same day and in the same location. The dermatology team works with you to coordinate your appointments with your schedule.

Causes Of Bowen’s Disease

Bowen’s disease usually affects older people in their 60s and 70s.

The exact cause is unclear, but it’s been closely linked with:

  • long-term exposure to the sun or use of sunbeds especially in people with fair skin
  • having a weak immune system for example, it’s more common in people taking medicine to suppress their immune system after an organ transplant, or those with AIDS
  • previously having radiotherapy treatment
  • the human papillomavirus a common virus that often affects the genital area and can cause genital warts

Bowen’s disease does not run in families and it’s not infectious.

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Guidelines For Avoiding The Sun And Uv Radiation

The following are some specific guidelines for avoiding excessive sun exposure:

  • Properly use sunscreens that block out both UVA and UVB radiation with at least SPF 30. DO NOT rely on sunscreen alone for sun protection. Also wear protective clothing and sunglasses.
  • Avoid sun exposure, particularly during the hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., when UV rays are the strongest.
  • Use precautions, even on cloudy days. Clouds and haze do not protect you from the sun, and in some cases may intensify UVB rays.
  • Avoid reflective surfaces such as water, sand, concrete, and white-painted areas.
  • UV intensity depends on the angle of the sun, not heat or brightness. The dangers are greater closer to the start of summer.
  • Skin burns up to 4 times faster at higher altitudes than at sea level.
  • Avoid sun lamps, tanning beds, and tanning salons. The machines use mostly high-output UVA rays.

Acne Versus Skin Cancer

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Skin cancer can be difficult to identify from home. Because the appearance of acne can vary and skin cancers take on different forms on the skin, its easy to mistake one for the other.

With something as serious as cancer, its important to get this right.

Can skin cancer look like acne?

Any pimple-like lesion in an adult that doesnt resolve or improve within 4 weeks should be evaluated by a dermatology provider.

In the example below, the lesion on the left is an acne cyst. It looks very similar to the lesion on the right, which is a basal cell skin cancer, but they are very different and one is far more dangerous than the other.

At-home diagnoses are difficult for those who arent sure what skin conditions present as what. When skin conditions arise, its always best to check with a board-certified dermatologist in order to ensure the best treatment plan.

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How Do People Find Signs Of Melanoma On Their Own Skin

Performing a skin self-exam as often as recommended by your dermatologist is the best way. While examining your skin, you want to look for the following:

  • Mole that is changing in any way

  • Spot that looks different from the rest of the spots on your skin

  • Growth or spot on your skin that itches, bleeds, or is painful

  • Band of color beneath or around a nail

  • Sore that doesnt heal or heals and returns

The ABCDEs of melanoma can help you find changes to a mole, freckle, or other spot on your skin.

Actinic Keratosis Signs And Symptoms

Many people have actinic keratosis , also called solar keratosis, on their skin. It shows that youâve had enough sun to develop skin cancer, and it is considered a precursor of cancer, or a precancerous condition.

Usually AK shows up on the parts of your body that have received the most lifetime sun exposure, like the face, ears, scalp, neck, backs of the hands, forearms, shoulders and lips.

Some of the same treatments used for nonmelanoma skin cancers are used for AK to ensure it does not develop into a cancerous lesion.


This abnormality develops slowly. The lesions are usually small, about an eighth of an inch to a quarter of an inch in size. You may see a few at a time. They can disappear and later return.

  • AK is a scaly or crusty bump on the skinâs surface and is usually dry and rough. It can be flat. An actinic keratosis is often noticed more by touch than sight.
  • It may be the same color as your skin, or it may be light, dark, tan, pink, red or a combination of colors.
  • It can itch or produce a prickling or tender sensation.
  • These skin abnormalities can become inflamed and be encircled with redness. Rarely, they bleed.

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Top 5 Conditions Often Mistaken For Skin Cancer

Finding a new bump or growth on your skin can be worrisome, particularly if you are a person that is concerned about the health of their skin. Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer and in Australia alone we have more than 13,000 cases diagnosed every year. Therefore, there are many reasons to be cautious and check your skin regularly.

You might also want to check what is skin cancer before you proceed.

The good news however is that there are many skin conditions that are often mistaken for skin cancer, that are in fact just benign growths. Telling the difference however often takes years of training, so it is always a good idea to check with your dermatologist to properly diagnose the growth.

To help put things into perspective here are 5 skin conditions that are often mistaken for skin cancer:

Amelanotic Melanoma: It Doesnt Look Like Other Melanomas

Skin Cancer: Squamous Cell Cancer

Odds are, if you have spent time on, you know the classic ABCDE warning signs of melanoma: Asymmetry, Border irregularity, Color variations, Diameter over ¼ inch or Dark in color, and Evolution or change. But did you know that some melanomas have very different features?

For example, certain melanomas may have no color at all. Physicians refer to these as amelanotic melanomas, because they are conspicuously missing melanin, the dark pigment that gives most moles and melanomas their color. These unpigmented melanomas may be pinkish-looking, reddish, purple, normal skin color or essentially clear and colorless.

  • An example of a flat, amelanotic, superficial spreading melanoma on the leg.
  • A nodular melanoma developing within an amelanotic melanoma in situ on the scalp.

While these melanomas lack pigment, they may have other melanoma warning signs to stay on the lookout for, such as asymmetry and an irregular border. In addition, more and more physicians today stress the importance of the E in the ABCDEs evolution or change. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that you examine your skin head to toe every month, especially looking for any new mole or any sign of change in an existing mole. If you spot any change that you consider suspicious, see a skin specialist without delay.

To help you spot unusual melanomas, you can also use early recognition strategies beyond the ABCDEs, such as the Ugly Duckling sign.

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Referral Pathways And Management

If a patient with a suspected malignant melanoma is seen in primary care there are clear referral pathways for urgent/red flag referral to secondary care. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence Referral Guidelines for Suspected Cancer state that an urgent referral to a dermatologist or other suitable specialist with experience of melanoma diagnosis should be made and excision in primary care avoided.

The Northern Ireland Cancer Network has issued clear guidance for referral of suspected skin cancer into secondary care . As mentioned previously, a changing lesion or a score of 3 or more in the Glasgow 7-point checklist is suspicious of melanoma. The importance of clear accurate clinical information cannot be emphasized enough as this allows patients to be triaged appropriately and therefore seen in a timely manner. Patients should be referred into secondary care as a red flag and are seen within 2-weeks. It is emphasised in the NICE Guidance that such lesions should not be excised in primary care and strongly recommended that incisional or incomplete excisions are avoided, particularly because of sampling error and the risk of inaccurate diagnosis. All excised skin specimens even those regarded as benign should be sent for histopathological analysis. The practitioner should also maintain a fail-safe log of all procedures performed with details of the outcome and action following histological diagnosis.

The Four Main Types Of Cutaneous Melanoma

Cutaneous melanoma is the most common of these categories, and the four main types of cutaneous melanoma include:

All types of melanoma require immediate attention, as they are more successfully treated when caught in their early stages. If you suspect you may have a form of skin cancer, call or complete our new patient registration form online. No referral is necessary to meet with the multispecialty team of oncologists who specialize in skin cancer.


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What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Melanoma

Melanoma is a skin cancer that can show up on the skin in many ways. It can look like a:

  • Changing mole

  • Spot that looks like a new mole, freckle, or age spot, but it looks different from the others on your skin

  • Spot that has a jagged border, more than one color, and is growing

  • Dome-shaped growth that feels firm and may look like a sore, which may bleed

  • Dark-brown or black vertical line beneath a fingernail or toenail

  • Band of darker skin around a fingernail or toenail

  • Slowly growing patch of thick skin that looks like a scar

Early melanoma

This early melanoma could be mistaken for a mole, so its important to look carefully at the spots on your skin.

When To See A Dermatologist

Skin Cancer

Plan an appointment with a dermatologist as soon as possible if you notice any changes to your skin that worry you. Not all skin changes are evidence of cancer. Your dermatologist will evaluate your skin changes to identify the cause and prepare a plan of treatment. Remember, early detection of skin cancer is the key to proper treatment and survival. Almost all skin cancers respond favorably to treatment when detected early enough.

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Warning Signs Of Skin Cancer To Pay Attention To

According to the World Health Organization , there are approximately 132,000 cases of melanoma and 2 to 3 million non-melanoma skin cancers diagnosed worldwide annually.

Signs of skin cancer can be subtle and difficult to identify, which can result in a delayed diagnosis. Being aware of the 7 most typical warning signs is the best way to prevent the most serious or fatal outcomes of a skin cancer by ensuring its earliest possible detection and diagnosis.

The 7 Signs

1. Changes in Appearance

Changes in the appearance of a mole or lesion is the simplest way to identify that something may not be right. While melanoma is the least common form of skin cancer, it is also the deadliest. Melanoma often appear as regular moles, but usually can be differentiated by some distinct characteristics. Use the ABCDE method to remember and detect these differences:


The shape of the mole or lesion in question does not have matching halves.


The edges of the mole or lesion are not clear. The color seems ragged or blurred, or may have spread into surrounding skin.


The color is uneven. Different colors such as black, brown, tan, white, grey, pink, red or blue may be seen.


If the suspicious mole or lesion changes in size there may be a problem. Increasing is more regular, but shrinking may also occur. Melanomas are typically a minimum of ¼ inch, or the size of a pencil eraser.


ELEVATED moles that seem to stick out further on your skin.

5. Impaired Vision

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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What Is Angiokeratoma Of Fordyce

Angiokeratoma of Fordyce causes many â â up to hundreds â â of skin lesions on either your scrotum or vulva. This condition is most common in older people.

This type of angiokeratoma is seen more often on scrotums than vulvas. On scrotums, the lesions usually don’t have any symptoms and shouldn’t affect your daily life.

Angiokeratoma of Fordyce can be much more painful when it’s located on the vulva. These lesions likely won’t have any irritating symptoms when they first form, but over time, they can become itchy and painful. You should talk to your doctor if you begin to feel any irritation from your angiokeratomas.

What Causes Angiokeratomas

They told her she had an STD – she had cancer

Unless there’s an underlying genetic condition, many doctors believe that angiokeratomas are caused by past damage to the skin at that particular location.

Angiokeratomas are not a symptom of a sexually transmitted disease . This is a common misconception, because an angiokeratoma of Fordyce causes lesions in the genital areas.

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Cancer That Wasnt Cancer

Page 11 A warning that the fungal infection called Coccidiomycosis appears to be a metastatic malignancy on X-rays.

Page 113 A warning that the fungal infection called Cutaneous Blastomycosis looks like bronchogenic carcinoma, or lung cancer.That same fungal infection is often frequently mistaken for squamous cell carcinoma, or skin cancer, when it shows up on the skin.

Page 153 The fungal infection called Histoplasmosis mimics cancers such as leukemia, Hodgkins lymphoma, lymphosarcoma, and sarcoidosis.

Page 175 Documents times when surgeons removed tumors from patients that actually werent tumors at all! The diagnosis of cancer was wrong. They were actually Cryptococcosis, a fungal infection that looks like cancerous tumors.

It goes on and on.

What Is Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is defined as the uncontrolled growth of dysfunctional cells in the skin. It occurs when the DNA of a skin cell undergoes an abnormal change called a mutation. These mutations cause skin cells to grow quickly and uncontrollably, resulting in the formation of malignant tumors.

Skin cancer may result from mutations caused when the skin is exposed to ultraviolet rays in the sunlight. So, to prevent the skin from developing cancer, a person must avoid direct sun exposure and the use of UV tanning beds. It is recommended to use a sunscreen lotion to protect the skin from UV rays.

Skin cancer is defined by the cells that are involved and are mainly categorized into two types.

  • Keratinocyte carcinoma: Cancer develops from squamous cells and develops into the basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma. They are the most common types of skin cancers.
  • Melanoma: This type of cancer develops from melanocytes, the cells that provide pigment to the skin.
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    A Fungal Infection Can Be Mistaken For Cancer

    Some fungal skin infections can resemble or mimic skin cancer. This is especially true for fungal infections that are treatment-resistant. Skin cancer often appears as a sore that does not heal. If you have a fungal infection that is not improving, it may be mistaken as early skin cancer.

    A skin biopsy will be able to show which condition is causing the issue. A fungal infection on the skin is usually successfully treated with a topical antifungal treatment. An oral antibiotic may be needed for a bacterial infection on the skin.

    You may experience cancer and fungal infections at the same time. Cancer treatments like chemotherapy affect your immune system and prevent it from effectively fighting infection. This raises your risk of developing a fungal infection. If you have a blood cancer such as leukemia, lymphoma, or myeloma, you have a higher risk of experiencing a fungal infection.


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