How to spot the early warning signs of skin cancer
According to a study by The Root Cause Coalition, one-third of Americans reported not going to routine doctor’s appointments over the past year. As a result, it’s possible that some have missed early warning signs of illness including skin cancer. While skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S., when caught early it is almost always curable. May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month and the perfect opportunity to learn early signs, so you’re able to catch cancer in its most treatable stage.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
There are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common, but least dangerous form of skin cancer. This form begins in the top layer of the skin and when basal cells are triggered by ultraviolet radiation from the sun, they can grow uncontrollably and typically appears as a slightly transparent or pearly bump on the skin. The following could also be signs of basal cell carcinoma: flat, firm, pale areas like a scar; raised red patches and small translucent bumps that are pink or red.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer and occurs when the squamous cells in the middle and outer layers of your skin mutate due to exposure to ultraviolet rays, similar to basal cell carcinoma. This form is often found on areas frequently exposed to the sun like the scalp, hands, ears and lips. It often looks like scaly patches or raised growths, similar to warts, with a lower area in the center.
Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer and can develop anywhere on the body, but is most common in areas exposed to the sun including the head, neck, upper back, torso, lower legs and even under the fingernails.
Melanoma develops when pigment producing cells called melanocytes mutate and begin to divide uncontrollably. The “ABCDE” rule can help you spot a potentially cancerous area early:
Asymmetry: Moles and freckles are typically symmetrical. Make note if the area is now irregular.
Border: If a spot that was once round is now blurred or jagged, it should be looked at by a doctor.
Color: A mole should be one color. Any lightening or darkening could be a sign of cancer.
Diameter: Any growth larger than a pencil eraser should be examined even if there aren’t other abnormalities.
Elevation: Look for growths that have an uneven surface or irregularity.
If you have a mole that has changed, a sore that won’t heal, or a growth that is itchy, painful or tender, make an appointment to have your doctor examine the area. Skin cancer is one of the most curable cancers when it’s caught early, so don’t allow the fear of a diagnosis to prevent you from being examined. Don’t forget, the simplest way to prevent skin cancer is wearing sunblock, so be sure to apply before heading outdoors. Your skin will thank you!
Pablo Prichard, M.D., also known as Dr. Scottsdale, was the former Chief of Plastic Surgery at HonorHealth John C. Lincoln Hospital for 14 years, Medical Director for Plastic Surgery and is Senior Partner at Advanced Aesthetics Associates. Dr. Scottsdale serves more than 2,000 patients every year and specializes in both reconstructive and cosmetic procedures. For more information, visit drscottsdale.com and follow on Instagram and TikTok @docscottsdale.