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.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
As the most common type of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma is also the number one type of cancer globally. According to the American Cancer Society, roughly eight out of ten skin cancers are basal cell carcinoma. Fortunately, this cancer grows slowly and is completely treatable. “Unfortunately, basal cell carcinoma is easy to ignore because a lot of times people think the spot is a pimple or blemish that won’t heal,” said Dr. George. The distinctive tip-offs are the lesions, as they are pearly or shiny bumps or spots. They can pop up anywhere but often appear on the face, neck, and ears. These lesions tend to form scabs or sores, be scaling and flaky, or bleed easily over time.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
As the second most common type of skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma is similar to basal cell carcinoma in that it tends to present itself as a pink bump or patch that won’t go away, explained Dr. George. There are certain cases in which squamous cell carcinoma can spread to other parts of the body, but it is easy to treat when diagnosed early. Squamous cell carcinoma usually appears as a flat patch or can become larger and nodular with pink to red tones, according to Dr. Rossi. They can also feel rough and have a wart-like surface or be scaling, bleeding, itchy, and painful.
Merkel Cell Carcinoma
While considered to be rare, this cancer is one of the most dangerous types of skin cancer, as it can grow and spread rapidly to other parts of the body. Merkel cell carcinoma tends to be small in size, painless, and usually in a red, purple, or pink color. It can also feel firm and may be shiny. The lesions typically occur on the face, neck, or arms, but they can grow anywhere on the body and grow very quickly.Related: 11 Signs of Melanoma Skin Cancer
It may be difficult to spot these lesions on your own, and it is highly recommended that when in doubt you visit your physician. However, it doesn’t hurt to keep an eye on moles and use proper sun protection at all times.