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What Skin Cancer Looks Like When It Starts

Look Out For An Ugly Duckling

What skin cancer looks like

The Ugly Duckling is another warning sign of melanoma. This recognition strategy is based on the concept that most normal moles on your body resemble one another, while melanomas stand out like ugly ducklings in comparison. This highlights the importance of not just checking for irregularities, but also comparing any suspicious spot to surrounding moles to determine whether it looks different from its neighbors. These ugly duckling lesions or outlier lesions can be larger, smaller, lighter or darker, compared to surrounding moles. Also, isolated lesions without any surrounding moles for comparison are considered ugly ducklings.

The Four Major Types Of Melanoma

Melanoma can be divided into different subtypes. A few of the most common subtypes are:

  • Superficial spreading melanoma.Superficial spreading melanoma is the most common type of melanoma. Lesions are usually flat, irregular in shape, and contain varying shades of black and brown. It can occur at any age.
  • Lentigo maligna melanoma. Lentigo maligna melanoma usually affects adults over 65 and involves large, flat, brownish lesions.
  • Nodular melanoma.Nodular melanoma can be dark blue, black, or reddish-blue, but may have no color at all. It usually starts as a raised patch.
  • Acral lentiginous melanoma.Acral lentiginous melanoma is the least common type. Typically it affects the palms, soles of the feet, or under finger and toenails.

Freckle Or Skin Cancer When You Should Be Worried About Your Skin Spots

Do you have brown spots on your skin?

If youre like most people, your answer is yes.

You either have freckles, moles, birthmarks, or a combination of all three. We dont think much about them. Theyre just a part of the state of our skin. We assume if it was cancer, it would look like it.

But do you know what skin cancer really looks like? Could you tell the difference between a freckle or skin cancer and are you willing to risk it?

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Types Of Skin Malignancies:

  • Melanoma the least common form of skin cancer, but responsible for more deaths per year than squamous cell and basal cell skin cancers combined. Melanoma is also more likely to spread and may be harder to control.
  • Nonmelanoma malignancies:
    • Squamous cell cancer the second-most common skin cancer. It’s more aggressive and may require extensive surgery, depending on location and nerve involvement.
    • Basal cell cancer the most common form of skin cancer. It is rarely fatal but can be locally aggressive.

These skin malignancies are typically caused by ultraviolet radiation from exposure to the sun and tanning beds.

Most Common Types Of Skin Cancer

How Does Skin Cancer Look Like
  • Basal Cell Carcinoma: This is the first most common type of skin cancer, appearing on the skin as a pinkish patch or a flesh-colored, pearly bump.
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma: This is the second most common type of skin cancer. It may present with a recurring sore that heals and reopens, a scaly patch, or a red bump that is firm to the touch.
  • Melanoma: Because of its ability to spread to local lymph nodes, melanoma can be deadly, making early detection and treatment crucial. Melanoma may develop in a pre-existing mole, but it commonly develops as a new dark spot on the skin.
  • Merkel Cell Carcinoma: This type of skin cancer is very rare, but individuals with fair skin who are at a higher risk should know that it most often appears on the head or neck as a painless, firm, shiny nodule.

Also Check: Invasive Ductal Carcinoma Survival

When Should I See My Healthcare Provider

Make an appointment to see your healthcare provider or dermatologist as soon as you notice:

  • Any changes to your skin or changes in the size, shape or color of existing moles or other skin lesions.
  • The appearance of a new growth on your skin.
  • A sore that doesnt heal.
  • Spots on your skin that are different from others.
  • Any spots that change, itch or bleed.

Your provider will check your skin, take a biopsy , make a diagnosis and discuss treatment. Also, see your dermatologist annually for a full skin review.

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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Why Does Skin Cancer Occur In More Non

Scientists dont fully know why people of skin with color develop cancer in non-sun-exposed areas, such as their hands and feet. They think that the sun is less of a factor though. However, dermatologists still see plenty of UV sunlight-induced melanomas and squamous cell skin cancer in people of color, in skin tones ranging from fair to very dark.

Get To Know Your Skin

What Does Skin Cancer Look Like?

The sooner a skin cancer is identified and treated, the better your chance of avoiding surgery or, in the case of a serious melanoma or other skin cancer, potential disfigurement or even death.

It is also a good idea to talk to your doctor about your level of risk and for advice on early detection.

It’s important to get to know your skin and what is normal for you, so that you notice any changes. Skin cancers rarely hurt and are much more frequently seen than felt.

Develop a regular habit of checking your skin for new spots and changes to existing freckles or moles.

Also Check: Skin Cancer Mayo

Can You Get Skin Cancer In Your 20s

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, melanoma is the second most common type of cancer diagnosed in 15-to-19-year-olds, and the most common form of cancer affecting young adults between the ages of 25 and 29. Many of these diagnoses are made in female patients, but young men can develop melanoma as well.

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.

Also Check: Signs Of Stage 4 Cancer

What Is My Skin Type

Skin types that are more sensitive to ultraviolet radiation burn more quickly and are at a greater risk of skin cancer.

All skin types can be damaged by too much UV radiation. Skin types that are more sensitive to UV radiation burn more quickly and are at a greater risk of skin cancer.

People with naturally very dark skin still need to take care in the sun even though they may rarely, if ever, get sunburnt. The larger amount of melanin in very dark skin provides natural protection from UV radiation. This means the risk of skin cancer is lower.

Eye damage can occur regardless of skin type. High levels of UV radiation have also been linked to harmful effects on the immune system.

Vitamin D deficiency may be a greater health concern for people with naturally very dark skin, as it is more difficult for people with this skin type to make vitamin D.

Assessing The Warning Signs Of Early Stage Skin Cancer

THC Inhibits Melanoma Tumor Growth According to Recent ...

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.

Also Check: Skin Cancer Spreading To Lymph Nodes

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

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.

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How Common Is Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in the U.S.

Other skin cancer facts:

  • Around 20% of Americans develop skin cancer sometime in their life.
  • Approximately 9,500 Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer every day.
  • Having five or more sunburns in your life doubles your chance of developing melanoma. The good news is that the five-year survival rate is 99% if caught and treated early.
  • Non-Hispanic white persons have almost a 30 times higher rate of skin cancer than non-Hispanic Black or Asian/Pacific Islander persons.
  • Skin cancer in people with skin of color is often diagnosed in later stages when its more difficult to treat. Some 25% of melanoma cases in African Americans are diagnosed when cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes.

The Abcdes Of Melanoma

What Does Skin Cancer Look Like?

The first five letters of the alphabet are a guide to help you recognize the warning signs of melanoma.

A is for Asymmetry. Most melanomas are asymmetrical. If you draw a line through the middle of the lesion, the two halves dont match, so it looks different from a round to oval and symmetrical common mole.

B is for Border. Melanoma borders tend to be uneven and may have scalloped or notched edges, while common moles tend to have smoother, more even borders.

C is for Color. Multiple colors are a warning sign. While benign moles are usually a single shade of brown, a melanoma may have different shades of brown, tan or black. As it grows, the colors red, white or blue may also appear.

D is for Diameter or Dark. While its ideal to detect a melanoma when it is small, its a warning sign if a lesion is the size of a pencil eraser or larger. Some experts say it is also important to look for any lesion, no matter what size, that is darker than others. Rare, amelanotic melanomas are colorless.

E is for Evolving. Any change in size, shape, color or elevation of a spot on your skin, or any new symptom in it, such as bleeding, itching or crusting, may be a warning sign of melanoma.

If you notice these warning signs, or anything NEW, CHANGING or UNUSUAL on your skin see a dermatologist promptly.

A is for Asymmetry

D is for Diameter or Dark

E is for Evolving

E is for Evolving

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What Does Stage 1 Skin Cancer Look Like

  • How long does it take skin cancer to spread?
  • Stage 1: The cancer is up to 2 millimeters thick. It has not yet spread to lymph nodes or other sites, and it may or may not be ulcerated. Stage 2: The cancer is at least 1 mm thick but may be thicker than 4 mm. It may or may not be ulcerated, and it has not yet spread to lymph nodes or other sites.

    What Causes Skin Cancer

    The main cause of skin cancer is overexposure to sunlight, especially when it results in sunburn and blistering. Ultraviolet rays from the sun damage DNA in your skin, causing abnormal cells to form. These abnormal cells rapidly divide in a disorganized manner, forming a mass of cancer cells.

    Another cause of skin cancer is frequent skin contact with certain chemicals, such as tar and coal.

    Many other factors can increase your risk of developing skin cancer. See question, Who is most at risk for skin cancer?

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    What Is A Biopsy

    A proper diagnosis of cancer in the skin is made possible through biopsy. We will remove a skin tissue sample and send it to a laboratory. A pathologist will then examine your samples and look for abnormal cells that could be cancerous. Through a biopsy, you can also get accurate information about the stage of skin cancer you might have.

    For advanced melanoma, we request imaging tests and lymph node biopsy to see whether cancer has affected other parts of the body. Additional evaluation is made possible using any or a combination of the following methods:

    • Computed tomography
    • Measurement of lactate dehydrogenase levels

    When To See A Doctor About Skin Cancer

    MOHs surgery 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.

    Read Also: Skin Cancer Pictures Mayo Clinic

    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.

    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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    How To Check Your Skin

    • Make sure you check your entire body, as skin cancers can sometimes occur on parts of the body that are not exposed to the sun, such as the soles of the feet, between fingers and toes and under nails.
    • Undress completely and make sure you have good light.
    • Use a mirror to check hard to see spots, like your back and scalp, or get a family member, partner or friend to check for you.

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