It’s summer, and we are all ready for some fun in the sun. But don’t forget the sunscreen. Throughout the year, you should examine your skin from head to toe once a month, looking for any suspicious lesions, even if you practice sun safety. Self-exams can help you identify potential skin cancers early, when they can almost always be cured.
For a successful self-exam, you need to know what you’re looking for. To spot either melanomas or non-melanoma skin cancers (such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma), take note of any new moles or growths, and any existing growths that begin to change significantly in any way. Lesions that change, itch, bleed, or don’t heal are alarm signals.
ABCs of Melanoma
A – Asymmetry: If you were to draw a line through the middle of a mole and the two halves do not match, the mole is asymmetrical, a warning sign for melanoma.
B – Border: The borders of early melanoma tend to be uneven. The edges may be scalloped or notched.
C – Color: A mole that is a variety of colors is a warning sign of melanoma. A number of different shades of brown, tan, red, or black might appear.
D – Diameter: Melanomas usually are larger in diameter than the eraser on your pencil tip (1/4 inch or 6mm), but they may sometimes be smaller when first detected.
E – Evolving: Be on the alert when a mole starts to evolve or change in any way. See your doctor if you notice any changes in size, shape, color, elevation, or other traits, or any new symptom such as bleeding, itching or crusting.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma is the most frequently occurring form of all cancers. Basal cell carcinomas are abnormal, uncontrolled growths or lesions that arise in the skin’s basal cells, which line the deepest layer of the epidermis (the outermost layer of the skin). Basal cell carcinomas often look like open sores, red patches, pin growths, shiny bumps or scars and are usually caused by a combination of cumulative and intense, occasional sun exposure.
Although basal cell carcinoma rarely spreads beyond the original tumor site to other parts of the body or becomes life-threatening, it should not be taken lightly; it can be disfiguring if not treated promptly.
Recognizing Basal Cell Carcinoma
- Reddish patch or irritated area, frequently occurring on the face, chest, shoulders, arms, or leg. Sometimes the patch crusts. It may also itch or hurt. At other times, it persists with no discomfort.
- Shiny bump or nodule that is pearly or clear and is often pink, red, or white. It can also be tan, black, or brown, especially in dark-haired people and can be confused with a normal mole.
- Pink growth with a slightly elevated rolled border and a crusted indentation in the center. As the growth slowly enlarges, tiny blood vessels may develop on the surface.
- Scar-like area that is white, yellow, or waxy, and often has poorly defined borders; the skin appears shiny and taut. This warning sign may indicate the presence of an invasive basal cell carcinoma that is larger than it appears on the surface.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer. It is an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells arising in the squamous cells, which compose most of the skin’s upper layers. Squamous cell carcinoma often looks like scaly red patches, open sores, elevated growths with a central depression, or warts; they may crust or bleed. They can become disfiguring and sometimes deadly if allowed to grow.
Squamous cell carcinoma is mainly caused by cumulative ultraviolet exposure over the course of a lifetime. (UV from the sun and from tanning beds)
Squamous cell carcinoma may occur on all areas of the body including the mucous membranes and genitals, but are most common in areas frequently exposed to the sun, such as the rim of the ear, lower lip, face, balding scalp, neck, hands, arms and legs.
Recognizing Squamous Cell Carcinoma
- Persistent scaly red patch with irregular borders that sometimes crusts or bleeds.
- Elevated growth with a central depression that occasionally bleeds and may rapidly increase in size.
- Open sore that bleeds and crusts and persists for weeks.
- Wart-like growth that crusts and occasionally bleeds.
Not sure? See your medical provider. And always wear sunscreen!
(Source: Skin Cancer Foundation)