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Skin Cancer Awareness Month: Identifying the Early Stages of Skin Cancer

What to Notice in the Early Stages of Skin Cancer

The most prevalent form of cancer in the U.S., skin cancer, is always worth keeping top of mind. Of course, most of us have enough to think about as it is. But by deeming the month of May Skin Cancer Awareness Month, we can all renew our focus on skin cancer for a little while. This important month is meant to help people understand the seriousness and pervasiveness of skin cancer, and educate them on ways to prevent it, identify it, and treat it effectively. Indeed, maintaining awareness of various skin cancer risk factors and early warning signs plays a major role in keeping this disease at bay.

In observance of Skin Cancer Awareness Month this year, let’s explore how to identify the early stages of skin cancer.

What are the Early Signs of Skin Cancer?

While we often refer to skin cancer as one disease, it’s actually an umbrella term for various kinds. The main distinction is between melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancers, though there are even more subcategories and variations further down. Knowing this is important because different types of skin cancer may give off different warning signs at the early stages of development. Let’s break down the common early signs categorically.

Melanoma Warning Signs

The deadliest form of skin cancer, melanoma occurs when certain skin cells become mutated and begin to divide uncontrollably. People with several moles and/or a family history of skin cancer are more likely to develop melanoma, as are those who spend excessive amounts of time exposed to UV radiation (from sunlight, tanning beds, etc.). The early stages of melanoma often present themselves as mole irregularities. The “ABCDE” rubric makes it easy to remember these warning signs when looking at your moles:

  • Asymmetrical shape
  • Border (irregular, blurred, etc.)
  • Color (inconsistent, smudged)
  • Diameter (larger than normal — more than ¼ inch across)
  • Evolution (changes in appearance over time)

While none of these signs guarantee the presence of skin cancer, they must be examined by a dermatologist to make sure. Even if no cancer is present, these moles are worth keeping an eye on as they may eventually become cancerous.

Nonmelanoma Warning Signs

While nonmelanoma skin cancers are typically less severe than melanoma, they’re also more common. The two major types of nonmelanoma skin cancer are basal cell carcinomas (BCCs) and squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs). Early stages of BCCs may look like:

  • Pinkish growths featuring raised edges and a dip in the center with blood vessels fanning out
  • Raised, itchy red patches on the skin
  • Firm, flat, yellowish, scar-like spots or patches
  • Open, oozing/crusting sores that fail to heal or return shortly after healing
  • Small, shiny, reddish-pink bumps, possibly containing black, blue, or brown spots

The early stages of SCCs sometimes look similar to those of BCCs. These include:

  • Open sores
  • War-like growths
  • Rough, scaly, reddish patches that may bleed, ooze, or crust over
  • Raised lumps or lesions, perhaps with a dip in the center

Distinguishing the early signs of nonmelanoma skin cancer from other skin conditions like acne, warts, psoriasis, eczema, etc. can be challenging, which is why it’s important to see your dermatologist whenever encountering these symptoms.

General Skin Concerns

The earliest stages of skin cancer may be deceptively mundane or minimal. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns with your skin, such as:

  • The appearance of new, unusual lesions, spots, etc.
  • Sores that won’t heal
  • Swelling on or near a mole
  • Changes in moles or existing skin lesions
  • Continual pain or tenderness on a given area of skin
  • Any spread of pigmented skin

How to Effectively Identify Early Stages of Skin Cancer

The earlier you receive a skin cancer prognosis or diagnosis, the better your chances are of preventing the disease and/or eliminating it. So, it’s not enough to simply be aware of the early stages of skin cancer — you must also actively seek these warning signs with the help of your dermatologist. Receiving an annual professional skin cancer screening can go a long way in detecting skin cancer at its earliest stages. In between these visits, you should also conduct routine self-examinations with the aid of a handheld mirror so you can check every inch of your skin for any abnormalities and changes. If and when you discover anything concerning, call your dermatologist for a closer look.

The more people know about skin cancer, their propensity for getting it, and what the early stages look like, the fewer cases we’ll see in the future. Here at Premier Dermatology Partners, we will continue to inform our patients about this preventable disease throughout the month of May and beyond. To learn more about our providers and all the services we offer, contact us today.

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