What Is Skin Cancer
Skin cancer refers to the uncontrolled growth of cells in the skin. Skin cancer is the commonest type of cancer in the United States. Your skin acts as a protective barrier containing several types of cells. Depending on the cell from which skin cancer originates, it can be of several types. The most common types of skin cancers are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. These two types of skin cancers are highly curable unlike the third most common skin cancer called melanoma. Melanoma is the most dangerous skin cancer that causes many deaths. Even curable skin cancers can cause significant disfigurement. Other types of skin cancers include lymphoma of the skin, Kaposi sarcoma, and Merkel cell skin cancer. Knowing the type of skin cancer is crucial for the doctor to decide treatment.
Assessing The Warning Signs Of Skin Cancer
You know that skin cancer should be taken seriously. And you know that early detection is key to successful treatment of skin cancer. But what should you look for? How do you know if that spot on your nose is just a freckle or something more threatening? Find out the early signs of skin cancer so you can perform a more helpful skin cancer check on yourself and know when you need to make an appointment with the dermatologist.
The Ugly Duckling Sign
The “ugly duckling sign” is another warning method to help identify melanomas. Usually, moles on your body look quite similar to each other. However, compared to other moles, melanomas tend to stand out like an ugly duckling. The more you check your skin and become familiar with it, the easier it becomes to spot an ugly duckling early.
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When Is A Mole A Problem
A mole is a benign growth of melanocytes, cells that gives skin its color. Although very few moles become cancer, abnormal or atypical moles can develop into melanoma over time. “Normal” moles can appear flat or raised or may begin flat and become raised over time. The surface is typically smooth. Moles that may have changed into skin cancer are often irregularly shaped, contain many colors, and are larger than the size of a pencil eraser. Most moles develop in youth or young adulthood. It’s unusual to acquire a mole in the adult years.
You Can Find Skin Cancer On Your Body
The best way to find skin cancer is to examine yourself. When checking, you want to look at the spots on your skin. And you want to check everywhere from your scalp to the spaces between your toes and the bottoms of your feet.
If possible, having a partner can be helpful. Your partner can examine hard-to-see areas like your scalp and back.
Getting in the habit of checking your skin will help you notice changes. Checking monthly can be beneficial. If you have had skin cancer, your dermatologist can tell you how often you should check your skin.
People of all ages get skin cancer
Checking your skin can help you find skin cancer early when its highly treatable.
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Skin Cancer Diagnosis Always Requires A Skin Biopsy
When you see a dermatologist because youve found a spot that might be skin cancer, your dermatologist will examine the spot.
If the spot looks like it could be a skin cancer, your dermatologist will remove it all or part of it. This can easily be done during your appointment. The procedure that your dermatologist uses to remove the spot is called a skin biopsy.
Having a skin biopsy is essential. Its the only way to know whether you have skin cancer. Theres no other way to know for sure.
What your dermatologist removes will be looked at under a microscope. The doctor who examines the removed skin will look for cancer cells. If cancer cells are found, your biopsy report will tell you what type of skin cancer cells were found. When cancer cells arent found, your biopsy report will explain what was seen under the microscope.
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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Dont Mistake Skin Cancer For A Harmless Issue
The importance of the prompt treatment of skin cancer cannot be overstated. Unfortunately, some individuals may mistake skin cancer for other skin problems like a sunspot, pimple, scar, or dry skin. If you are questioning the health of a blemish or mole, you should schedule a skin cancer screening with a dermatologist without delay.
How To Spot A Bcc: Five Warning Signs
Check for BCCs where your skin is most exposed to the sun, especially the face, ears, neck, scalp, chest, shoulders and back, but remember that they can occur anywhere on the body. Frequently, two or more of these warning signs are visible in a BCC tumor.
Please note: Since not all BCCs have the same appearance, these images serve as a general reference to what basal cell carcinoma looks like.
An open sore that does not heal
A reddish patch or irritated area
A small pink growth with a slightly raised, rolled edge and a crusted indentation in the center
A shiny bump or nodule
A scar-like area that is flat white, yellow or waxy in color
What Can Be Mistaken For Skin Cancers
There are many skin changes that occur over time and much that could be mistaken for skin cancer. The most commonly confused skin lesions and spots that occur over all parts of the body include:
Blackheads and pimples
Blackheads and pimples occur in almost everyone throughout their lifetime and can grow, change and ooze but should disappear within a couple of weeks, even quicker with proper skincare. Skin cells have a typical turnover cycle of 4-6 weeks so a blackhead or pimple shouldnt last longer than this.
Psoriasis is a skin condition that attacks healthy skin cells leaving red and itchy patches on the skin. This can often cause a build-up on the surface of the skin that can be mistaken as cancer due to the similarities of silvery scales, small spots and itchy skin that are important to look out for in skin cancer checkups.
Moles are the most common types of growth found on the skin and they appear mostly in early adulthood. The discovery of a new mole or skin lesions can be concerning and are commonly mistaken as skin cancer. The knowledge of melanomas being asymmetrical, irregular and strangely coloured can heighten this concern, as moles often follow a similar pattern. Therefore, it is always best to err on the side of caution with new or changing moles especially if they present with any pain or strange textures.
Is It Skin Cancer 38 Photos That Could Save Your Life
What’s the secret to avoiding skin cancer? There’s no surefire strategy, but experts say it’s vital to avoid tanning booths and to minimize your exposure to harsh sunlight .
In addition, periodically checking your skin can help you spot skin cancer at its earliest stages – when treatment is most likely to be effective. The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends monthly self-exams in which you check all of your skin, including between your fingers and toes, on your scalp, on your back and buttocks, etc.
Just what are you looking for? According to the American Melanoma Foundation, any mole or pigmented area that shows any of the four warning signs of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer:
- A is for asymmetry – half of the mole doesn’t match the other half
- B is for an irregular border – often notched uneven, or blurred
- C is for varied color – shades of brown and black are present
- D is for diameter – a mole that spans more than 6 mm (about the size of a pencil eraser – is more likely to be a melanoma.
Even if you can recite the skin cancer ABCD’s, it’s helpful to be able to eyeball photos of the various forms skin cancers and “precancers” can take. Here’s our quick-read photo guide.
38 photos that could save your life
Actinic keratoses: These precancerous lesions can turn cancerous. They’re common in older golfers and others who have spent a lot of time in sunlight.
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What Does Early Skin Cancer Look Like
It can be challenging to tell if a skin change is unimportant or, in fact, is a sign of developing skin cancer. Skin cancer is not uncommon, as one in five Americans will develop skin cancer before age 70. Learning to spot the warning signs is vital. When identified early, skin cancer is highly curable. Do you know what to look for or when to seek medical advice?
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.
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Identifying Skin Cancer: 37 Photos You Need To See
As we head into summer, its time to kick your safe skin practices into high gear. All individuals should apply a broad spectrum SPF every day, and watch their local UV forecast for daily updates when outside activities are planned.
Why? Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. One in five Americans will be diagnosed with the disease in his or her lifetime. There are more new cases of skin cancer every year than breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers combined, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Although family history and your natural skin pigmentation play a role in your risk, the number-one thing that causes skin cancer is exposure to UV rays.
Erin Gilbert, M.D., Ph.D., a spokesperson for the Skin Cancer Foundation, offered these guidelines to weather.com in 2014: Avoid the sun when its at its peak wear sun-protective clothes, such as a hat always wear a broad-spectrum SPF. Reapply sunscreen every two hours, or after swimming or sweating.
Its a myth that most sun damage occurs in childhood, so theres nothing you can do about it as an adult, Dr. Gilbert said.
Twenty-three percent of sun damage happens before youre 18, but it is cumulative. Its never too late to start protecting yourself, she said. Your melanoma risk doubles if youve had more than five severe sunburns at any age. Dont let a sunburn or a tan deter you from seeing your dermatologist or wearing sun screen the next day.
What Does Skin Cancer Look Like On Your Face
As you examine your skin for early signs of skin cancer on your face, you should be checking your whole head, as well as your neck. These are the most common locations for skin cancer cases because they get the most sun exposure year-round. If you find a new or changing spot on your skin, use the ABCDE method to look for:
- Asymmetry: If you drew a line through the middle of the spot, would the two halves match up?
- Border: Are the edges of the spot irregular? Look for a scalloped, blurred, or notched edge.
- Color: A healthy blemish or mole should be uniform in color. Varying shades of brown, red, white, blue, black, tan, or pink are cause for concern.
- Diameter: Is the spot larger than 6mm? Skin cancer spots tend to be larger in diameter than a pencil eraser, although they can be smaller.
- Evolving: If the size, shape, or color of a spot changes or it starts to bleed or scab, there is potential for it to be cancerous.
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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.
What You Can Do
Check yourself: No matter your risk, examine your skin head-to-toe once a month to identify potential skin cancers early. Take note of existing moles or lesions that grow or change. Learn how to check your skin here.
When in doubt, check it out. Because melanoma can be so dangerous once it advances, follow your instincts and visit your doctor if you see a spot that just doesnt seem right.
Keep in mind that while important, monthly self-exams are not enough. See your dermatologist at least once a year for a professional skin exam.
If youve had a melanoma, follow up regularly with your doctor once treatment is complete. Stick to the schedule your doctor recommends so that you will find any recurrence as early as possible.
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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.
Melanoma Can Be Tricky
Identifying a potential skin cancer is not easy, and not all melanomas follow the rules. Melanomas come in many forms and may display none of the typical warning signs.
Its also important to note that about 20 to 30 percent of melanomas develop in existing moles, while 70 to 80 percent arise on seemingly normal skin.
Amelanotic melanomas are missing the dark pigment melanin that gives most moles their color. Amelanotic melanomas may be pinkish, reddish, white, the color of your skin or even clear and colorless, making them difficult to recognize.
Acral lentiginous melanoma, the most common form of melanoma found in people of color, often appears in hard-to-spot places, including under the fingernails or toenails, on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet.
The takeaway: Be watchful for any new mole or freckle that arises on your skin, a sore or spot that does not heal, any existing mole that starts changing or any spot, mole or lesion that looks unusual.
Acral lentiginous melanoma is the most common melanoma found in people of color.
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