Skin Cancer Awareness Month is dedicated to keeping us informed about the severity and prevalence of this disease, so there are fewer cases and related deaths in the future. Part of this educational effort includes teaching people how to identify skin cancer in the first place. Indeed, while skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S., it is also the most visible, meaning most cases can be seen early on. Detecting skin cancer risk factors and warning signs at the early stages is key to receiving effective treatment and becoming cured, therefore everyone should know what to look for.
So, can you tell if a spot on your skin is cancerous? Perhaps not definitively with the naked eye alone. However, certain visual cues can strongly suggest the presence of skin cancer, which can be further examined by a dermatologist.
Because there is more than one kind of skin cancer, there is no one way it appears. The two major forms of skin cancer include melanoma and nonmelanoma, and each kind offers its own set of clues.
The deadliest form of skin cancer, melanoma tends to reveal itself through variations of one’s moles, which may be anywhere on one’s skin. Most moles are benign and stay that way for one’s entire life. Some moles, however, can become cancerous, whether due to genetic or environmental factors, like UV radiation. Dermatologists check for early signs of melanoma by conducting mole evaluations and using the “ABCDE” rule, which stands for Asymmetry, Border, Color, Diameter, and Evolution. If your moles exhibit irregularities and/or significant changes in any of these categories, you may be at risk for developing skin cancer or already have it.
Nonmelanoma skin cancers, such as squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) or basal cell carcinomas (BCCs), present themselves differently. Like melanoma, these tumors can occur anywhere on the body, but they tend to show up on areas that receive the most sunlight, such as the face and neck. Additionally, SCCs and BCCs often appear as skin-colored and/or reddish-yellow growths, sometimes with a dented center and oozing fluid. These spots may temporarily disappear but keep returning.
Although skin cancer is often easy to see, it can be difficult to distinguish a cancerous spot from other skin conditions. For instance, certain growths that may signify early signs of skin cancer, such as cutaneous horns or actinic keratosis, often resemble warts, scabs, or other non-cancerous lesions. And even large, irregular moles can be completely harmless. Without a medical background and access to certain forms of medical technology, you most likely won’t be able to determine whether or not a spot is cancerous.
This is why it is crucial to seek help from a dermatologist whenever you come across an anomaly on your skin. Your doctor can conduct thorough testing such as biopsies or imaging examinations to deliver a skin cancer prognosis or diagnosis. It may turn out that a spot on your skin is caused by another issue. Either way, properly diagnosing the issue is essential for effective treatment and healthy skin.
Keeping close tabs on your skin won’t determine whether or not a spot is cancerous, but it is the first step in identifying potential threats. You can’t see or treat what you’re not looking for, after all. So, generally speaking, you should receive a professional skin cancer screening at least once a year (more or less as directed by your doctor) and also perform regular self-evaluations using a handheld mirror. The better you and your doctor get to know your skin, the easier it will be to tell if and when something is out of place. And the earlier you catch skin cancer, the better your chances of a complete recovery.
Don’t let skin cancer escape your sight. This Skin Cancer Awareness Month, take some time to learn about the warning signs and how to properly examine your skin. The experts at Premier Dermatology Partners can give you more advice and information on these matters. To learn more about our providers and all the services we offer, contact us today.