How Can I Tell If I Have Skin Cancer
Skin cancer is actually one of the easiest cancers to find. Thats because skin cancer usually begins where you can see it.
You can get skin cancer anywhere on your skin from your scalp to the bottoms of your feet. Even if the area gets little sun, its possible for skin cancer to develop there.
You can also get skin cancer in places that may surprise you. Skin cancer can begin under a toenail or fingernail, on your genitals, inside your mouth, or on a lip.
How Is Skin Cancer Diagnosed
Many people do not show symptoms of cancer in the skin unless their condition has advanced. However, through regular skin examinations, you can tell whats normal and whats not, so you can seek professional advice once you see any suspicious growth.
When seeking professional help, you can get a total body skin exam from a certified dermatologist. We will review your medical history and ask you about the suspicious growths in your skin. To see your skin structures clearly, we might use a dermatoscope and take photographs of your lesions or abnormal growths. If you have a high risk of skin cancer, regular screening can help you detect the appearance of cancers much sooner.
What Causes Skin Cancer On The Head
The biggest cause of skin cancer on the head is overexposure to sunlight and ultraviolet rays. Too much time in the sun can cause serious disruption to your skin cells regular development, triggering them to regenerate at an abnormal pace. Body parts that are often uncovered by clothingsuch as the head, face, neck, and armsare more susceptible to sunlight overexposure, making them more prone to skin cancer development. In fact, skin cancer on the head accounts for 13% of all diagnoses.
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How Is Skin Cancer Of The Head And Neck Diagnosed
Diagnosis is made by clinical exam and a biopsy. Basal cell and squamous cell cancers are staged by size and extent of growth. Basal cell cancers rarely metastasize to lymph nodes, but they can grow quite large and invade local structures. Squamous cell cancers have a much higher incidence of lymph node involvement in the neck and parotid gland and can spread along nerves.
Melanoma is staged, based not on size but on how deeply it invades the skin layers. Therefore, a superficial or shave biopsy will not provide accurate staging information used to guide treatment. Melanomas can have a very unpredictable course and may spread to distant organs. Melanomas with intermediate thickness often require sentinel node biopsy, a surgical procedure performed by a head and neck surgeon, to determine if microscopic spreading to lymph nodes has occurred.
Squamous Cell Skin Cancers
Squamous cell skin cancers can vary in how they look. They usually occur on areas of skin exposed to the sun like the scalp or ear.
Thanks to Dr Charlotte Proby for her permission and the photography.
You should see your doctor if you have:
- a spot or sore that doesn’t heal within 4 weeks
- a spot or sore that hurts, is itchy, crusty, scabs over, or bleeds for more than 4 weeks
- areas where the skin has broken down and doesn’t heal within 4 weeks, and you can’t think of a reason for this change
Your doctor can decide whether you need any tests.
Cancer and its management J Tobias and D HochhauserBlackwell, 2015
Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology VT De Vita, TS Lawrence and SA RosenbergWolters Kluwer, 2018
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What Do The Early Stages Of Skin Cancer Look Like
People can have stages of skin cancer and yet not feel ill, which makes early treatment and diagnosis a little challenging. But by being aware of the early stages of this disease, you can protect yourself and seek effective treatment right away. Do you have scaly patches, raised growths, or sores that do not heal? Dr. Jurzyk from Advanced Dermatology Center in Wolcott, CT can help you identify and treat all types of cancer of the skin, keeping you from fatal complications.
What Does Scalp Melanoma Look & Feel Like
When it comes to looking for scalp melanoma, Dr. Walker says, Because of hair growth and general difficulty clearly seeing the top of the head, it can be a challenge to see melanoma forming on the scalp. In addition to your own examinations, you may also want to chat with your hair professional. If one person regularly cuts your hair, they may be in a unique position to screen for common warning signs of scalp melanoma, so chat with your barber or stylist at your next appointment.
The first step to finding scalp melanoma is simple you need to know what youre looking and feeling for. Melanoma on any area of the skin usually looks like common skin conditions, which is one of the main reasons why its overlooked on other parts of the body. Melanomas may be mistaken for warts, moles, freckles, age spots, ulcers, or sores, and in some cases, they grow out of pre-existing skin growths. Melanoma lesions may bleed regularly, feel painful, or tingle.
To differentiate between benign skin lesions and potential scalp melanoma, keep the ABCDEs of skin cancer in mind:
- A Asymmetry Are the sides of the mole the same, or are they noticeably different?
- B Border Do the edges of the spot look jagged or otherwise atypical?
- C Color Is the color different from other spots on your body, or does the color vary throughout the lesion?
- D Diameter Is the mole larger than 6 mm ?
- E Evolution Is the mole changing in any way ?
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A Haircut Could Save Your Life
Today were featuring a guest post written by Skin Cancer Foundation President, Deborah S. Sarnoff, MD.
Dr. Sarnoff, are you aware that you have a black spot on your scalp? asked Manolita, the woman washing my hair. I was in the same chair, at the same salon with the woman who, for the past 25 years, has washed my hair during my monthly hair appointments.
Its not washing off, Manolita said. Then she held up a mirror for me.
I cant see anything, I replied. Two mirrors didnt help. Suddenly I had an idea: Can you take my cell phone out of my purse and snap a photo for me?
Looking at the photo on my iPhone, I started trembling. I almost fainted right there in the chair. The lesion had most of the classic ABCDE warning signs of melanoma: asymmetry, irregular borders, variegated colors and a large diameter. The E is for evolving or changing, but since this was the first time Id seen this spot on my scalp, I didnt know its history. Beginning to panic, I told Manolita, Just rinse out the shampoo and forget the haircut. Ill come back another time.
I immediately called my husband, Robert Gotkin, MD, a plastic surgeon who shares an office with me, and told him Please meet me at the office right away. I need to have this spot excised immediately. What if its a melanoma? I shuddered to think it, because scalp melanomas are the most lethal of all melanomas.
Scabs On Your Scalp Even Just A Single One Can Be Cancer Says Dr Janet Prystowsky A Board Certified Dermatologist In New York Ny With Over 25 Years Experience
The most dangerous scab you can find on your scalp is from skin cancer, she says.
Any scabbing condition on the scalp that does not respond to usual treatments within a month should be re-evaluated and potentially biopsied.
Skin cancer of the scalp is frequently mistaken for one of the more common scalp problems.
Delay in diagnosis leads to a larger and more serious skin cancer.
Even though hair should be able to protect the scalp from the sun, frequently skin cancer may appear in part lines or areas where the hair was cut short during childhood. It can occur anywhere on the scalp, however.
Squamous cell carcinoma, like basal cell carcinoma, is intimately linked to cumulative sun exposure.
This is why this cancer typically appears in areas that have received heavy exposure to the sun.
Balding men are especially prone to these non-melanoma skin cancers unless theyve habitually worn hats or sunscreen on their scalps when outdoors.
Actinic keratosis Source: skincancer.org
A precancerous condition called actinic keratosis often develops on scalps that have received a lot of sun exposure over the years.
If left untreated, these can start looking scabby .
About 10 percent of these atypical growths if left untreated morph into squamous cell carcinoma which can be fatal.
This is why if you see any kind of scab development on the scalp that has a progressive natureget it checked by a dermatologist.
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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.
Basal Cell Carcinoma Signs And Symptoms
This type of cancer is usually found on sun-exposed areas of the skin like the scalp, forehead, face, nose, neck and back.
Basal cell carcinomas may bleed after a minor injury but then scab and heal. This can happen over and over for months or years with no visible growth, making it easy to mistake them for wounds or sores. They rarely cause pain in their earliest stages.
In addition to the bleeding and healing, these are other possible signs of a basal cell cancer:
- A persistent open sore that does not heal and bleeds, crusts or oozes.
- A reddish patch or irritated area that may crust or itch.
- A shiny bump or nodule that is pearly or translucent and often pink, red or white. It can also be tan, black or brown, especially in dark-haired people, and easy to confuse with a mole.
- A pink growth with a slightly elevated, rolled border and a crusted indentation in the center. Tiny blood vessels may appear on the surface as the growth enlarges.
- A scar-like lesion in an area that you have not injured. It may be white, yellow or waxy, often with poorly defined borders. The skin seems shiny and tight sometimes this can be a sign of an aggressive tumor.
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What Are The Signs Of Skin Cancer On The Scalp
There are many possible signs of skin cancer on the scalp.
These include, but are not limited to:
- Pearl-colored or waxy bumps
- Brown spots with dark speckles
- Moles that change in feel, size, and color, or that are bleeding
- Lesions that feel itchy, burning, or otherwise painful
Most signs of skin cancer on scalp areas include some discoloration, but this is not a universal sign. In particular, lesions can be flesh-colored, though this is relatively rare. Some occupations, ancestries, and foods can increase your risk of cancer.
The risks of developing specific types of skin cancer change with age. Among younger people, melanoma on scalp areas is the most common, especially between the ages of 25 and 29. In older people, squamous and basal cell skin cancers on the head are more common.
Skin cancer is not the only possible cause of changes on the scalp.
Here are some other common conditions that people often mistake for skin cancer:
- Skin tags
To the untrained eye, it can be hard to distinguish some of these from genuine scalp cancer symptoms and scalp cancer treatment. At the risk of repeating ourselves, only a trained doctor can determine whether or not someone has skin cancer on the head.
What Are The Causes Of & Risk Factors For Scalp Melanoma
Sun exposure is the leading cause of all forms of melanoma. Because the scalp often receives a significant amount of sun exposure, that means there is a high risk for melanoma and other forms of skin cancer in this area. In addition to sun exposure, regularly visiting tanning beds, radiation treatment, and chemical exposure can all contribute to the development of skin cancers.
In addition to the underlying causes of skin cancer, numerous factors can increase the risk of developing scalp melanoma, including:
- Taking immunosuppressive medications
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Skin Cancer On Scalp Symptoms
Depending on the type of skin cancer, the symptoms and presentation can differ. Non-melanoma skin cancers often present with non-healing skin lesions that look unusual or hurt/bleed/crust/scab for more than four weeks.
Basal cell carcinoma symptoms:
- Red raised patches that might be itchy
- Flat and firm flesh-colored lesions that appear similar to a scar
- Sores that bleed, scab, and either don’t heal or heal and return regularly
- Small, pink, or red, pearly bumps that might have blue, brown, or black areas
- Growth with raised edges and an area that dips in the center
Squamous cell carcinoma symptoms:
- A firm, red bump on the skin
- Crusted and scaly patches on the skin
- Growths that look like warts
- Sores that bleed, scab, and either don’t heal or heal and return regularly
What Is The Follow
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 a more deeply invasive or advanced malignant melanoma, your oncologist may want to see you every few months. These visits may include total body skin examinations, regional lymph node checks, and periodic chest X-rays. Over time, the intervals between follow-up appointments will increase. Eventually these checks may be done only once a year.
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Medical Treatment For Skin Cancer
Surgical removal is the mainstay of therapy for both basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas. For more information, see Surgery.
People who cannot undergo surgery may be treated by external radiation therapy. Radiation therapy is the use of a small beam of radiation targeted at the skin lesion. The radiation kills the abnormal cells and destroys the lesion. Radiation therapy can cause irritation or burning of the surrounding normal skin. It can also cause fatigue. These side effects are temporary. In addition, a topical cream has recently been approved for the treatment of certain low-risk nonmelanoma skin cancers.
In advanced cases, immune therapies, vaccines, or chemotherapy may be used. These treatments are typically offered as clinical trials. Clinical trials are studies of new therapies to see if they can be tolerated and work better than existing therapies.
How Can Hairstylists Help
Here I am with my heroes from the hair salon : Manolita Lorenzo , Georgia Megaris and Tasso Megaris .
Hair professionals are in a unique position to detect skin cancers on the scalp because they have a natural view of difficult-to-see areas during a salon visit. They also see their clients on a regular basis, often at monthly intervals, and may frequently discuss health-related topics, such as wellness, illness, diet and medical care.
A 2018 article in JAMA Dermatology found that educating salon professionals about melanoma risk can be beneficial. Previous studies have shown that hair professionals are willing to speak up when they notice a suspicious spot, and the more knowledge they have about skin cancer, the more helpful their input can be.
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Basal Cell Skin Cancer Warning Signs
Basal cell cancer tends to develop on parts of the body that get a lot of sun exposure, like the face, head, and neck, but they can appear anywhere.
Some are flat and look a lot like normal skin. Others have more distinctive characteristics, says the American Cancer Society , including:
- Flat, firm, pale, or yellow areas that resemble a scar
- Raised, reddish patches of skin that might be itchy or irritated
- Small bumps that might be pink, red, pearly translucent, or shiny, possibly with areas of blue, brown, or black
- Pink growths with slightly raised edges and an indentation in the center tiny blood vessels might run through it like the spokes of a wheel
- Open sores, possibly with oozing or crusted areas, that dont heal or that go through cycles of healing and bleeding
- Delicate areas that bleed easily. For instance, having a sore or cut from shaving that lingers longer than one week.
These slow-growing skin cancers can be easy to ignore unless they become big and begin to itch, bleed, or even hurt, according to the ACS.
Types And Symptoms Of Skin Cancer On The Scalp
Skin cancer involves the abnormal growth of cells of the skin, and it usually occurs on areas that have more sun exposure. Skin cancer develops when errors occur in the genetic material of skin cells. These mutations cause cells to grow abnormally, forming a tumor or mass of cells.
Skin cancer starts in the top layer of the skin . The epidermis consists of three main kinds of cells: squamous cells, basal cells, and melanocytes. The type of cell where the skin cancer starts determines its kind and the treatment options.
Factors that can make you more prone to developing skin cancer on the scalp are:
- Having fair skin, light-colored eyes, and red or blonde hair and more easily developing a sunburn or freckles
- A personal history of sunburns
- Excessive exposure to the sun, particularly if you dont protect your skin with clothing or sunscreen
- Living in high-altitude or sunny climates
- Having abnormal or multiple moles
- Having precancerous skin lesions known as actinic keratoses
- A family or personal history of skin cancer
- A weakened immune system such as from HIV/AIDS or immunosuppressant drugs after an organ transplant
- Having undergone radiation therapy for skin problems such as acne and eczema
- Exposure to certain substances such as arsenic
There are three main types of skin cancer: squamous cell cancer, basal cell cancer, and melanoma.
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