Skin cancer is an incredibly serious condition that affects millions each year. If a new or changing spot on your skin has you worried that it’s cancerous, here are some guidelines of what to look for.
While moles themselves are not cancerous, melanoma can often closely resemble a mole. Being able to tell the difference between a common, benign mole and a malignant lesion caused by melanoma can be difficult. Thankfully, there are several key differences between a common mole and melanoma. The ABCDEs of melanoma have been designed to help spot these dissimilarities. A is for asymmetry. Common moles are fairly uniform and round in shape. If one side of a mole is larger than the other, it could be cancerous. B is for borders. If the outside edges of a mole are blurry or bumpy and irregular, then this growth could be melanoma. C refers to the color of a mole. Common moles are a collection of melanin (the protein that gives skin its pigmentation) from a high concentration of melanocytes in the skin. Melanoma occurs the same way, but if a mole isn’t dark brown in color, or has more than one color it is quite possibly skin cancer. D is for diameter, which is simply how wide across the mole is. Melanoma will often be larger than a common mole in size, beyond the diameter of a pencil eraser. Finally, E is for evolving. Any changes to your mole’s shape, borders, color or size can mean that it’s cancer. Even if it’s a new mole, take a look at it and keep track of any changes it may undergo. Melanoma moves quickly and can often be deadly if it’s allowed to spread to other organs. That’s why it’s critical to perform regular self exams and schedule full exams with your dermatologist.
The first thing to know about skin cancer is that you can see it before it’s even officially cancer. Sun damage, sustained and over a number of years can cause skin cancer. Damage from the sun can cause actinic keratosis, a skin condition that can often predict skin cancer. Actinic keratosis usually shows up visibly, but even if you can’t see an AK, you can feel it. Actinic keratosis typically feels rough and dry. Sometimes it can be red, pink, brown or silvery/scaly and flaky. It can also look a lot like a sore, and actually bleed or crust over with a yellow scab. While only about one in ten AKs develop into squamous cell carcinoma, it can also become other forms of cancer like basal cell carcinoma. Regardless of the type of skin cancer, it can resemble the symptoms of actinic keratosis that were described earlier. While any form of skin cancer can appear anywhere on the skin, it most commonly develops on areas frequently exposed to sunlight.
Visibly, a BCC can look like a flat, yellow scar or raised reddish patches that can possibly be itchy. Sometimes, like AKs, basal cell carcinoma can look like an open sore that bleeds or weeps. Other times, a BCC can look like a wheel with raised round, pink patch of skin with a sunken center, and blood vessels looking a bit like the spokes. Squamous cell carcinoma can resemble a BCC, but can also look more like a lump or wart. With either, they can be prone to damage and bleeding because of their effects on skin. BCCs and SCCs are a lot less deadly than melanoma, but if untreated either can spread to the lymph nodes and other organs. Once skin cancer spreads inward, it can become much harder to treat. Between the two, squamous cell carcinoma is more prone to spread than basal cell carcinoma. Though we’ve outlined a lot of ways that skin cancer appears, it doesn’t always follow the rules. Skin cancer doesn’t look the same for everyone, and in some instances it doesn’t look like much of anything at all.
The bottom line is that any lesion like the ones described above can be cancerous, so you’re better safe than sorry when assuming something could be a cancer risk. The dermatologists at Northeast Dermatology Associates are experts in diagnosing skin cancer, so give them a call and take your skin’s health seriously.
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