Skin cancer is a nasty disease that if left untreated or undetected can prove deadly. Thankfully, skin cancer is the most visible form of cancer, and when it’s detected early can be treated safely.
Early in the development of squamous cell and basal cell carcinomas, there often are obvious warning signs that give them away. BCC is the most common type of skin cancer, affecting more than 4 million people every year in the United States alone. Fortunately, this is the slowest moving type of skin cancer, so early detection and medical intervention is easiest. In its earliest stages, basal cell carcinoma often resembles simple irritation on your skin. Redness, bumps or scar-like skin in sun-exposed areas are the most common appearances for BCC. In people with darker skin, instead of redness people often note that their skin darkens or becomes shiny like a scar. For others, basal cell carcinoma lesions look like open sores that don’t heal. Because the early visual manifestations of BCC are numerous, it’s important to pay attention to your skin and schedule skin cancer screenings with your dermatologist. While you might be able to recognize that something isn’t quite right with your skin, basal cell carcinoma doesn’t always play by the rules or fit general descriptions.
Squamous cell carcinoma is another very common form of skin cancer that is often associated with an even earlier warning sign, actinic keratosis. Squamous cell carcinoma forms in the squamous cells of the epidermis, slightly deeper than BCC. Though this form of cancer is less common than basal cell carcinoma, it still impacts hundreds of thousands of Americans each year. Actinic keratosis, or AK is the most common precancerous skin condition and it sometimes directly develops into squamous cell carcinoma. An AK often looks like a patch of dryness on the skin. They are generally flaky or scaly in texture. They may discolor skin, often to shades of pink, white, red or dark tan, but sometimes they can match your skintone. In many cases, it’s easier to feel an AK than see one. Though only 1 in 10 actinic keratoses will develop into skin cancer, treating them early can prevent cancer from ever forming. Additionally, many people don’t develop just one AK at a time, and those who do develop them are more susceptible to developing others in the future. In most cases, SCC is preceded by one or more actinic keratosis. Because of this, your dermatologist does not take chances with these lesions.
Melanoma is a fast-moving cancer that is far more lethal than other types of skin cancer. Since the main reason any forms of skin cancer are dangerous is their ability to spread to the lymph nodes and internal organs, melanoma is notably risky. When visible (which is true for most cases), melanoma appears as a mole-like lesion on the skin. Moles and melanoma are concentrations of melanocytes which generate the pigment melanin in the skin. While most fair-skinned people have up to fifty moles on their body, any mole could actually be melanoma in disguise. It’s important to keep an eye out for new or evolving moles that seem different from common moles. Sometimes, melanoma can also develop as a spot, streak or line beneath the fingernails. These spots or streaks will be dark in color, often close to black. Though trauma can cause similar visual symptoms in the fingernails, melanoma will persist and often is not accompanied by any discomfort. If you notice colors or streaks under your fingernails and haven’t injured the nail, it’s crucial to seek a dermatologist’s opinion as soon as possible.
Skin cancer likes to show its cards, and if you know what to recognize it can be caught and treated with ease. If you notice changes to your skin like the ones outlined earlier, call the dermatologist you can trust at Northeast Dermatology Associates.
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