Why Is It Important To Identify Skin Cancer Early
The vast majority of skin cancer is completely curable if it is caught early. When diagnosis and treatment of skin cancer are delayed, the risk of death increases significantly. This is especially true of melanomas. Compared with early-stage melanoma patients, treated within 30 days of being biopsied, those treated 30 to 59 days after biopsy have a 5% higher risk of dying from the disease, and those treated more than 119 days after biopsy have a 41% higher risk.
The easiest way to identify skin cancer early is to examine your skin regularly for any new or changing lesions. Remember to check your whole body. If you find any suspicious spots, make an appointment to see your doctor. Some people like to make regular annual or six-monthly skin screening appointments with their dermatologists.
Many dermatologists offer mole-mapping, which is a specialized, ongoing form of screening moles for malignant changes.
Whatever way you choose to check your skin, remember that early detection of skin cancer could save your life.
After Skin Cancer Treatment
Most skin cancer is cured surgically in the dermatologist’s office. Of skin cancers that do recur, most do so within three years. Therefore, follow up with your dermatologist as recommended. Make an appointment immediately if you suspect a problem.
If you have advanced malignant melanoma, your oncologist may want to see you every few months. These visits may include total body skin exams, regional lymph node checks, and periodic chest X-rays and body scans. Over time, the intervals between follow-up appointments will increase. Eventually these checks may be done only once a year.
Recurrent Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal cell carcinomas are the most common type of skin cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. These cancers develop within the basal cell layer of the skin, in the lowest part of the epidermis.
Patients who have had basal cell carcinoma once have an increased risk of developing a recurrent basal cell cancer. Basal cell cancers may recur in the same location that the original cancer was found or elsewhere in the body. As many as 50 percent of cancer patients are estimated to experience basal cell carcinoma recurrence within five years of the first diagnosis.
Basal cell carcinomas typically grow slowly, and it is rare for them to metastasize or spread to nearby lymph nodes or other parts of the body. But early detection and treatment are important.
After completing treatment for basal cell carcinoma, it is important to perform regular self-examinations of the skin to look for new symptoms, such as unusual growths or changes in the size, shape or color of an existing spot. Skin cancers typically develop in areas of the body that are exposed to the sun, but they may also develop in areas with no sun exposure. Tell your oncologist or dermatologist about any new symptoms or suspicious changes you may have noticed.
- Have a history of eczema or dry skin
- Have been exposed to high doses of UV light
- Had original carcinomas several layers deep in the skin
- Had original carcinomas larger than 2 centimeters
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What Do Skin Cancer Bumps Look Like
Skin cancer is a serious health concern, and helping patients diagnose and treat this condition is one of the most important services the board-certified dermatologists at U.S. Dermatology Partners provide. Because skin cancer can sometimes look like other types of benign skin lesions, its important to understand the common characteristics of both cancerous and benign skin lesions. According to Dr. John Jay Wofford of U.S. Dermatology Partners in Dallas, Plano, and McKinney, Texas, Many patients wonder if skin cancer can look like a pimple, mole, or other benign spot on their skin. And the answer is sometimes yes. Skin cancer may appear very similar to common skin lesions, so being informed about what skin cancer looks like is very important. Keep reading to learn more about how to identify common signs of skin cancer.
Melanoma: The Deadliest Skin Cancer
Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer, because it tends to spread if its not treated early.
This cancer starts in the melanocytes cells in the epidermis that make pigment.
About 100,350 new melanomas are diagnosed each year.
Risk factors for melanoma include:
- Having fair skin, light eyes, freckles, or red or blond hair
- Having a history of blistering sunburns
- Being exposed to sunlight or tanning beds
- Living closer to the equator or at a higher elevation
- Having a family history of melanoma
- Having many moles or unusual-looking moles
- Having a weakened immune system
Melanoma can develop within a mole that you already have, or it can pop up as a new dark spot on your skin.
This cancer can form anywhere on your body, but it most often affects areas that have had sun exposure, such as the back, legs, arms, and face. Melanomas can also develop on the soles of your feet, palms of your hands, or fingernail beds.
Signs to watch out for include:
- A mole that changes in color, size, or how it feels
- A mole that bleeds
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Skin Cancer Pictures: What Does Skin Cancer Look Like
Skin cancer images by skin cancer type. Skin cancer can look different than the photos below.
Skin cancer often presents itself as a change in the skins appearance. This could be the appearance of a new mole or other mark on the skin or a change in an existing mole.
Please remember that you should always seek advice from your doctor if you have any concern about your skin. Skin cancers often look different from skin cancer images found online.
Looking For Signs Of Skin Cancer
Non melanoma skin cancers tend to develop most often on skin that’s exposed to the sun.
To spot skin cancers early it helps to know how your skin normally looks. That way, you’ll notice any changes more easily.
To look at areas you cant see easily, you could try using a hand held mirror and reflect your skin onto another mirror. Or you could get your partner or a friend to look. This is very important if you’re regularly outside in the sun for work or leisure.
You can take a photo of anything that doesn’t look quite right. If you can it’s a good idea to put a ruler or tape measure next to the abnormal area when you take the photo. This gives you a more accurate idea about its size and can help you tell if it’s changing. You can then show these pictures to your doctor.
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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.
How To Lower Your Skin Cancer Risk
The number-one way to minimize skin cancer risk is to start wearing sunscreen 365 days a year, even if you spend the majority of your time indoors. Keep in mind, too, that the suns UV rays can penetrate glass, clouds and can be dangerous even in the winter.
In addition, see your dermatologist at least every 12 months for a screening. Those who may be at higher risk may benefit from visits every six months. You should also get to know your own skin, as most skin cancers are detected by the affected individual. When doing a self-check, keepthe ABCDEs of melanoma in mind, and if you notice anything unusual or see any changes, call your dermatologist ASAP.
Dr. Leslie Baumann, M.D. and her team at Baumann Cosmetic Dermatology believe in proof, not promises. World-recognized for both cosmetic and general dermatology, our treatment strategies rely exclusively on evidence-based, scientifically verified products and procedures that promote skin health and a natural appearance. We combine effective medical procedures with individualized instruction on proper skincare, nutrition, supplementation and lifestyle in order to maximize the health of the skin and body as a whole while minimizing the effects of aging. For more, visit Dr. Baumanns blog for daily updates Monday through Friday, or inquire about an appointment through Derm.net.
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When To See A Dermatologist
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.
Curettage Electrodesiccation And Cryotherapy
Some dermatologists perform curettage, electrodesiccation, and cryotherapy to treat skin cancer. These are considered to be destructive techniques that are best suited for small, superficial carcinomas with definite borders. During the procedure, layers of skin cells are scraped away using a curette. Any remaining cancer cells are destroyed with the use of an electric needle.
In some cases, liquid nitrogen or cryotherapy is used to freeze the margins of the treatment area. Extremely low temperatures kill the malignant skin cells and create a wound, which will heal in a few weeks. The treatment may leave scars that are flat and round, similar to the size of the skin cancer lesion.
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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
Treatment For Skin Cancer
If you are diagnosed with skin cancer, you may have multiple options for treatment. Based on the specifics of your case, your doctor will recommend your best course of action. The suggested methods for fighting the cancer may include:
Cryotherapy. In cryotherapy, a doctor freezes and kills precancerous or cancerous skin cells using liquid nitrogen. This technique is most often used to treat minor basal or squamous carcinomas or precancerous skin conditions.
Surgery. Different types of skin cancer may be removed by surgery. Surgery can be excisional – simply cutting out a cancerous area and the skin surrounding it – or may involve meticulous removal of layers of skin.
Radiation therapy. In radiation therapy, energy beams are used to kill cancerous cells. Radiation therapy may help finish off a cancer that was not fully removed by surgery, and can also be instrumental in cases that dont allow for surgery.
Chemotherapy. This type of therapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. To treat some cases of skin cancer, chemotherapy may be applied locally through topical creams or lotions. It may also be administered by IV to target multiple body parts at once.
Immunotherapy. Immunotherapy, also called biological therapy, involves boosting the immune system to fight cancer cells. With the help of strengthening medicines, the immune system may be better prepared to kill cancerous cells.
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The Second Most Common Type Of Skin Cancer
Squamous cell carcinoma looks like a small irritated bump, a dried patch, or a wound that doesnt heal. Again, people with lighter skin are most likely to get it, and it often appears on skin that gets a lot of exposure to the sun.
Squamous cell cancers typically grow slowly, but have a higher chance than basal cell carcinomas to cause subdermal damage.
Basal Cell Carcinomas And Squamous Cell Carcinomas
While melanoma often gets the most coverage, there are two other major types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Often grouped together as non-melanoma skin cancers, these two types are much more common than melanoma cancer. Although they are unlikely to spread to other parts of the body, they may cause disfigurement if not treated early.
Basal cell carcinomas are abnormal, uncontrolled growths or lesions that arise in the skins basal cells, which line the deepest layer of the outermost layer of the skin. They often look like open sores, red patches, pink growths, shiny bumps or scars and usually are caused by sun exposure.
Warning signs include:
- Flat, firm, pale or yellow areas, similar to a scar
- Raised reddish patches that may be itchy
- Small, pink or red, translucent, shiny, pearly bumps, which might have blue, brown or black areas
- Pink growths with raised edges and a lower area in their center, which may contain abnormal blood vessels
- Open sores that dont heal or that heal and then return
- Basal cell cancers are often fragile and might bleed after shaving or after a minor injury. If you have a sore or a shaving cut that doesnt heal after a week, it would be wise to contact your doctor.
- Rough or scaly red patches, which may crust or bleed
- Raised growths or lumps, sometimes with a lower area in the center
- Open sores that dont heal or that heal and then come back
- Wart-like growths
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When To See A Doctor About Skin Cancer
Many people, especially those who have fair coloring or have had extensive sun exposure, should periodically check their entire body for suggestive moles and lesions.
Have your primary healthcare professional or a skin specialist check any moles or spots that concern you.
See your healthcare professional to check your skin if you notice any changes in the size, shape, color, or texture of pigmented areas .
If you have skin cancer, your skin specialist or cancer specialist will talk to you about symptoms of metastatic disease that might require care in a hospital.
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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For More Information About Skin Cancer
National Cancer Institute, Cancer Information Service Toll-free: 4-CANCER 422-6237TTY : 332-8615
Skin Cancer Foundation
Media file 1: Skin cancer. Malignant melanoma.
Media file 2: Skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma.
Media file 3: Skin cancer. Superficial spreading melanoma, left breast. Photo courtesy of Susan M. Swetter, MD, Director of Pigmented Lesion and Cutaneous Melanoma Clinic, Assistant Professor, Department of Dermatology, Stanford University Medical Center, Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System.
Media file 4: Skin cancer. Melanoma on the sole of the foot. Diagnostic punch biopsy site located at the top. Photo courtesy of Susan M. Swetter, MD, Director of Pigmented Lesion and Cutaneous Melanoma Clinic, Assistant Professor, Department of Dermatology, Stanford University Medical Center, Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System.
Media file 5: Skin cancer. Melanoma, right lower cheek. Photo courtesy of Susan M. Swetter, MD, Director of Pigmented Lesion and Cutaneous Melanoma Clinic, Assistant Professor, Department of Dermatology, Stanford University Medical Center, Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System.
Media file 6: Skin cancer. Large sun-induced squamous cell carcinoma on the forehead and temple. Image courtesy of Dr. Glenn Goldman.
Exams And Tests For Skin Cancer
If you think a mole or other skin lesion has turned into skin cancer, your primary care provider will probably refer you to a dermatologist. The dermatologist will examine any moles in question and, in many cases, the entire skin surface. Any lesions that are difficult to identify, or are thought to be skin cancer, may then be checked. Tests for skin cancer may include:
- The doctor may use a handheld device called a dermatoscope to scan the lesion. Another handheld device, MelaFind, scans the lesion then a computer program evaluates images of the lesion to indicate if it’s cancerous.
- A sample of skin will be taken so that the suspicious area of skin can be examined under a microscope.
- A biopsy is done in the dermatologist’s office.
If a biopsy shows that you have malignant melanoma, you may undergo further testing to determine the extent of spread of the disease, if any. This may involve blood tests, a chest X-ray, and other tests as needed. This is only needed if the melanoma is of a certain size.
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Determining If The Cancer Has Spread
As part of your diagnosis, your doctor will also determine what stage the cancer is in. The different stages refer to whether and how far the cancer has spread in your body, on a Roman numeral scale of I to IV. A stage I cancer is small and contained to the body part where it originated, whereas a stage IV cancer has spread aggressively to other parts of the body.
Depending on the type of skin cancer that a person has, it may be more or less likely that it has spread through the body. For instance, basal cell skin cancer rarely spreads beyond the skin where it starts. However, melanomas and large squamous cell carcinomas are more likely to spread into other regions of the body. Cases of melanoma, in particular, may call for further tests to determine the specific stage theyre in.
Your doctor may evaluate multiple factors in order to stage the cancer. Using biopsies and imaging tests, your doctor may take a look at:
The size and thickness of the tumor, and whether it has grown into surrounding tissues
Nearby lymph nodes, to check for signs of cancer spread