Skin Cancer Screenings: How Early Can Skin Cancer Be Detected?

Doctor checking a patient's back Skin Cancer Screenings: How Early Can Skin Cancer Be Detected?

Skin cancer, in its many forms, impacts millions of adults every year. Dermatologists’ modern understanding of cancer and how it manifests visually allow it to be detected early so they can provide treatment.

Skin Cancer Explained

Skin cancer is a very common form of cancer. Like other cancers, skin cancer occurs when skin cells are rapidly overproduced. There is no real explanation for why cancer happens when it does. What we do know, however, about skin cancer is that it is most often caused by sun damage. Sunlight is composed of harmful ultraviolet light, which can very quickly damage skin cells. A sun tan is actually skin reacting to damage, and using pigmentation to protect the cells from further destruction. There are many different ways that skin cancer can show itself, so it’s important to know how to recognize its early warning signs.

What Does Skin Cancer Look Like?

Skin cancer shows itself in very different ways, depending on the type of cancer a person has and how long they have had it. Melanoma is the most lethal form of skin cancer because it moves quickly and often goes undetected. But melanoma is not invisible, and you can spot it if you know what to look for. Most of the time, melanoma appears in its earliest form as a mole-like lesion. People with fair skin have anywhere between 50 and 100 benign moles, though any could be a sign of melanoma. With melanoma, it’s best to know what’s normal for a mole so that you can identify what isn’t. Typical moles are small in diameter, usually no wider than a pencil eraser, with even, brown coloration and rounded edges. If a mole is asymmetrically shaped, or evolves and changes how it appears, it may be melanoma.

Though melanoma is the most deadly form of skin cancer, that doesn’t mean others don’t pose grave threats to your health. Squamous cell carcinoma spreads slower than melanoma, but it can still metastasize and spread to other parts of the body, affecting internal organs or bones. With SCC, many people first develop actinic keratosis, or AK. These are slightly raised, dry and scaly lesions that can form anywhere on the skin. Most often, AKs crop up on the head, face, neck and arms. Actinic keratosis is caused by accumulations of sun damage, and are more common in older adults. While AKs are often a very early warning sign of squamous cell carcinoma and other types of cancer, they aren’t always precancerous. Regardless, quickly getting a doctor’s opinion on any changes to your skin is important.

Skin Cancer Screenings: How Early Can Skin Cancer Be Detected?

Skin cancer is difficult to prevent, given that sunlight is everywhere around us. But, it can be caught before it even becomes cancer—especially concerning actinic keratosis. Performing frequent self-evaluations and visiting your dermatologist for full skin exams is important. Your dermatologist can recognize symptoms far earlier than you might, given their expertise.

Melanoma isn’t usually detected until it’s cancerous. Considering how fast melanoma can spread, there’s really no other way to detect it than visually. If you have moles or a history of skin cancer, you should be getting frequent skin cancer screenings with your dermatologist to make sure that melanoma is diagnosed early and correctly. Skin cancer is more easily treated than other forms of cancer because it often gives itself away. If you’re paying attention to your skin, and stay on the lookout for any changes it presents, you’ll be able to stop cancer before it has a chance to begin.

If you have suffered from skin cancer in the past, or prove to be at high risk for it, you should stay vigilant about the signs of skin cancer before it begins. If you want to take proactive steps to protect your skin, reach out to the experts at Northeast Dermatology Associates for a skin cancer screening.

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