Skin cancer, while scary to think about, is easy to spot compared to other types of cancer. However, you must know what you’re looking for to identify and prevent skin cancer. The earlier you find skin cancer, the faster you can seek treatment.
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends conducting a self-examination once a month. It is also important to note that during this process, you should carefully examine your skin from head to toe, using mirrors as necessary to check your back and other areas for suspicious moles.
“The bottom line is if your skin starts forming a spot that doesn’t look like anything else and it’s not getting better, it’s growing, or it’s acting differently than your other moles, get it checked out,” said Saira J. George, MD, dermatology professor at MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Known as the rarest and deadliest type of skin cancer, melanoma grows at an uncontrolled growth rate due to a type of skin cell called melanocytes, according to Jennifer DeFazio, MD, FAAD, an assistant clinical member at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. To spot melanoma, using the ABCDE method is recommended.
First, check for asymmetry, looking to see if both halves of the lesion look the same. Melanoma lesions can be asymmetrical, whereas regular moles are typically symmetrical. Also, check the borders of the mole for irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined edges. Normal moles tend to have sharp and regular borders. Color also plays an important factor, as melanomas tend to be multi-colored, black-brown, red, or blue. If the diameter is greater than six millimeters, which is approximately the size of a pencil eraser, be sure to get it checked out by your doctor. Finally, be aware of any moles that are evolving, meaning they are changing in size, color or any other characteristic. Normal moles do not change much over a person’s lifetime.
Also known as solar keratosis, actinic keratosis is a precancerous lesion, according to Anthony Rossi, MD, board-certified dermatologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Actinic keratosis develops as a result of too much exposure to the sun, and it is common to develop more than one. In some cases, it can grow into squamous cell skin cancer, so it is very important to spot actinic keratosis before it advances. Actinic keratosis produces lesions that are regularly rough, red, and scaly, but also vary in size. They can appear on the face, lips, ears, back of the hands, and arms, but can also occur in other areas that are exposed to the sun. They can become itchy or painful, and have various colors such as pink, red, or flesh tones.