Early detection is crucial for effective treatment of skin cancer, regardless of which type of skin cancer it is. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States with more than 5.4 million cases of skin cancer per year.
When skin cancer gets the chance to grow, it can spread deeper into the skin and potentially affect other organs.
How to Detect Skin Cancer
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends having a professional skin examination once per year. They also recommend skin self checks every month. If you don’t want to do skin checks every month, it can be very helpful to be aware of the signs of skin cancer. This way, if you notice anything out of the ordinary, you can make an appointment with a board certified dermatologist.
Many types of skin cancer will be relatively noticeable due to the appearance of sores or dry, scaly skin. Melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, is not as obvious as other skin cancers. It is crucial to be aware of changes in your skin for early detection and successful treatment. While melanoma is much rarer than other types of skin cancer, it is especially important to detect melanoma early.
The ABCDE’s of Early Melanoma Detection
In order to help people remember, and to be aware of any moles that may be at risk for melanoma, the ABCDEs of Melanoma were created (www.melanoma.org). If any of your moles have one or more of the following characteristics, it is time to make an appointment for a skin check by a board certified dermatologist.
A = Assymetry: Are the different halves of a mole different?
B = Borders: Irregular edges that are notched, blurred or ragged.
C = Color: Inconsistent color or pigmentation throughout the mole.
D = Diameter: Larger than a pencil eraser (6mm).
E = Evolution: Is it changing? Changing size, shape, color or if it starts to itch or become sensitive are all warning signs.
The Most Common Types of Skin Cancer
Luckily, melanoma is not the most common form of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are the two most common types of skin cancer. Actinic Keratoses can also lead to squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). Review the skin characteristics below to be knowledgeable and proactive in your skin’s longterm health.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Appearance: A pearl sized bump that is usually pinkish in color.
Body Location: Most commonly on the head, arms, and neck; can occur anywhere that gets significant unprotected sun exposure.
If left untreated: Can spread deeper into the skin and damage nerves and/or bones. Treatment of advanced cases may cause disfigurement.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Appearance: A red, scaly patch or sore similar to a scar that often heals and reopens.
Body Location: Most commonly the head, neck and arms or any other areas that get consistent unprotected sun exposure.
If left untreated: Can grow into deeper layers of the skin, potentially damaging tissues surrounding the affected area. Treatment of advanced cases can cause disfigurement.
Actinic Keratoses (generally pre-cancerous growths)
Appearance: Scaly, dry patches of skin. Generally pre-cancerous, but are often a precursor to SCC, and should be treated by a dermatologist.
Body Location: Usually the head, neck and arms, but can generally happen anywhere with significant unprotected sun exposure.
If left untreated: Generally lead to squamous cell carcinoma.
Properly Protect Yourself from Skin Cancer
The best thing you can do is prevent skin cancer from happening in the first place. Make sure to use a quality SPF 30+ sunscreen when you are out in the sun, or cover up your skin. The sun causes an estimated 80% of the skin damage that leads to aging. Sun exposure is the leading cause of all types of skin cancer.
Make sure to have a regular skin check by a board certified dermatologist. If you find anything worrisome, please schedule an appointment today. With early detection, treatment is much less invasive, costly and complicated.