7 Tips to Detect Early Signs of Skin Cancer
While skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer, it does have the highest survival rate. Unfortunately, recognizing changes in your skin can challenging as it is an organ that is ever-changing. The appearance of our skin can change as we age and in response to sun damage. In most cases, the moles and other spots on our skin are innocuous and are typically more unsightly than they are dangerous. In fact, studies have shown that the body sheds nearly 2 pounds of dead skin every year as a means of making room for new skin cells. Nonetheless, it is still important to routinely check your skin and alert your physician if you come across anything that may be indicative of skin cancer. In this article, we will detail some of the symptoms associated with cancer and how to differentiate between harmless skin imperfections and possible skin problems.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF SKIN CANCER?
Although most physicians and dermatologist recommend inspecting your skin for abnormalities, it is not an easy task. Skin cancer is either characterized as melanoma or non-melanoma. Of these two, non-melanoma is the most common. It is asymptomatic and forms in the deepest layers of the skin. Melanoma, on the other hand, is far more aggressive and can be fatal if left untreated. This strain of skin cancer is most likely to develop in the middle layers of the skin and can easily spread to the other parts of the body.
Now that we have a cursory understanding of the two forms of skin cancer, let's take a moment to better understand the symptom associated with each.
IDENTIFYING NON-MELANOMA SKIN CANCER
Although the symptoms can vary slightly from person to person, non-melanoma is delineated by unusual growth on the skin or wounds that don't heal. Some of the more common symptoms of non-melanoma skin cancer include
- Skin discoloration
- Moles that change in size or texture
- Moles that begin to bleed
In discussing non-melanoma skin cancer, it is important to note that there are three different variations of the disease including
Squamous cell carcinomas – This form of skin cancer is characterized by lesion-like lumps on the skin, typically firm, rough or scaly in texture. To give you some context, those who have been diagnosed with squamous cell carcinomas have compared the symptoms to that of eczema.
Basal cell carcinomas – This form of skin cancer is characterized by discolored bumps on the skin. As the disease progresses, patches of skin may become pale or brownish and may begin to bleed.
Merkel cell carcinomas – This form of cancer is characterized by red or pinkish-colored moles that usually appear on areas of the skin commonly exposed to sunlight like your arms, neck, shoulders, face, and scalp, for example.
IDENTIFYING MELANOMA SKIN CANCER
As previously stated, melanoma is the most aggressive form of skin cancer. It often appears in the form of new moles that can quickly change in size, texture, and color. That said, melanoma can be difficult to detect as cancerous moles often mimic the look of non-cancerous moles. The only way to confirm the presence of melanoma is to be examined by a general physician, oncologist, or dermatologist who will conduct an "ABCDE" test. These tests are designed to help physician discern between cancerous and non-cancerous moles on the skin.
HOW DOES AN ABCDE TEST WORK?
Because moles can vary in shape, color, and size, an "ABCDE" test is needed to determine conclusively whether or not a patient has melanoma skin cancer. That said, let's take a closer look at what these letters signify:
- A: Asymmetrical
- B: Borders
- C: Color
- D: Diameter
- E: Evolution
Now that we understand what the acronyms stand for, let's delve into how they pertain to melanoma skin cancer:
Asymmetrical – Melanoma moles or lesions usually are usually asymmetrical while non-cancerous moles are uniform and circular.
Borders – Unlike cancerous moles, non-cancerous moles are characterized by even borders. In many cases, the color of the moles may appear to be bleeding into the skin.
Color – Cancerous moles are often characterized by multi-colored while non-cancerous moles will have only one color.
Diameter – The one thing that is salient amongst all cancerous moles is their size; moles impacted by melanoma generally have a diameter measuring 6 millimeters.
Evolution – Non-cancerous moles or lesions generally do not change in terms of shape or size. Cancerous moles or lesions, on the other hand, can change over time.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU SUSPECT YOU HAVE SKIN CANCER?
It is important to remember that your skin is ever-changing, evolving, and repairing. This means that a new mole, bump, or scab is not always indicative of cancer. Nonetheless, if you're experiencing any of the symptoms outlined in this article, you're encouraged to schedule a visit with a general physician, oncologist, or dermatologist as soon as possible, especially if the mole or scab feels unusually tender, changes shape, or grows in size.
The best way to help your doctor determine whether or not you have skin cancer is by keeping a record of the shape and size of your moles, especially those that you believe may be cancerous. Lastly, it is always a good idea to use sunscreen to minimize your chances of developing skin cancer. If you've noticed any abnormalities in your skin and reside in the Byron Bay area, you're encouraged to schedule a consultation with Byron Bay Doctors Brightside Clinic, a family clinic that offers skin checks and a number of other health services.