Skin cancer is the most diagnosed type of cancer in the United States. If you can spot skin cancer early, no matter how severe, it can usually be treated quickly.
The most common type of skin cancer is called basal cell carcinoma (or BCC). BCC is a slow-growing type of skin cancer that can appear on any skin that has been exposed to sunlight. BCC can appear gradually or relatively quickly, but in either case it takes time to spread to other parts of the body.
Squamous cell carcinoma (or SCC) is another very common form of skin cancer that hundreds of thousands of people are diagnosed with every year. It usually develops on skin that has experienced sun damage consistently for many years. It’s also possible that SCC will develop on areas that haven’t seen much sun exposure, such as inside the mouth or on the bottom of the feet.
Melanoma is not the most common form of skin cancer, but it is by far the most deadly. It can spread quickly and can form anywhere that sun damage has occurred. People who tan frequently either in the sun or in tanning beds are more likely to develop melanoma.
Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL) is a rare type of cancer that occurs when T-cells found in the skin mutate and become cancer cells. These T-cells (or white blood cells) are usually a part of the body’s natural immune response. It is not directly linked to sun damage and may be caused by a certain bacteria on the skin’s surface.
Skin cancers can appear in a number of different ways, but almost all of them have obvious, precancerous signs and symptoms. These skin indicators are considered precancerous because with prompt treatment, cancer will not develop.
Actinic keratosis (or AK) is an example of a precancerous skin condition. AK usually looks like dry skin, but it can also have no appearance. Even if you can’t see AK, you can usually feel it. AKs are usually rough areas of skin and they will feel coarse to the touch. You may also experience itching or burning sensations. AK is a very common warning sign for squamous cell carcinoma, so pay attention to how your skin may change.
BCC can show up in many different ways, but it’s usually visible on the skin in some way. Growths may appear as rounded, smooth bumps; dark-colored, mis-shapen lumps; or even as a scaly, reddish patch. Be sure to note any changes on your skin. Many skin conditions are benign and noncancerous, but it’s always important to practice caution.
Melanoma almost always appears as a new or changing mole. Since melanoma is a very dangerous, rapidly spreading form of skin cancer, keeping a close eye on existing moles is very important. If you have many moles, you are more likely to develop melanoma and it will be harder to detect. Common locations for melanoma are the head, neck, upper back, and torso as these are the areas most exposed to sunlight. The mole-like growth caused by melanoma is often asymmetrical, meaning one half is different from the other and it often has an irregular border. Melanoma doesn’t generally appear as a perfect circle or with rounded, soft edges. Instead, its borders look scalloped or craggy, and it’s usually not just one color. It may be made of several different dark shades of brown and red.
Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL) usually looks like a rash and can remain unchanged for years. CTCL can mimic eczema, so your dermatologist may perform a more in-depth exam of the affected skin to rule out CTCL. More severe forms of CTCL will spread and cause itchy, sore redness and swelling.
Skin cancer is not always easy to spot, but if you’re vigilant and perform self-exams regularly, you can detect any warning signs early. If you notice a change in your skin, reach out to your New England dermatologist for an expert opinion today.
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