How can you spot skin cancer?
After we’ve been out in the sun for a majority of the day, we’re usually cautioned to look out for “funny looking moles” that weren’t on the skin before, especially if you happen to be very fair.
It’s a common warning against skin cancer, but contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t always manifest that way.
For background, skin cancer is the result of cells in the skin growing uncontrollably and forming cancerous tumors. These changes are usually triggered by long exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun or more man-made devices, like tanning beds.
There are three different types to be know about: basal cell, squamous cell, and melanoma.
“Basal cell typically shows up as a pimple that scabs, bleeds and doesn’t go away,” dermatologist Dr. Samer Jaber told Yahoo Lifestyle.
Basal cell skin cancer is also the most common form of skin cancer, accounting for 8 out of every 10 cases.
Squamous cell, which Yahoo Lifestyle reports occurring in 2 out of 10 skin cancers, can manifest as “rapidly growing painful sores, or itchy flat scabs that won’t heal.”
Basal and squamous skin cancer tends to concentrate on the head and neck, but sometimes spreads to other parts of the body, although it is rare.
Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. This forms from melanocyte cells and can spread quickly to other parts of the body, and in many cases appears as a mole that is asymmetrical, has jagged borders, is uneven in color, or appears in a place where a mole wasn’t before.
Even if there are effective treatments for melanoma, it’s more difficult to treat if caught at a later stage.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States, and the likelihood of developing it is high. Some contributing factors include having skin that burns easily, having naturally blond or red hair, tanning bed use, diseases that suppress the immune system, and even genetics have a play in it.
Dr. Jaber adds that even just five sunburns in your life increases your risk of basal cell and squamous cell “by 70% and melanoma by 80%,” said Dr. Jaber.
Preventing skin cancer comes down to how we practice sun safety, which isn’t just limited to slapping on sunscreen. Especially for fair skinned and pale persons, you need to be mindful of where to go for shade in any area outdoors, pack a hat or bring an umbrella, and put on sunglasses.
Of course it’s also good to check in with your dermatologist regularly, just to be safe if something looks or feels weird.
“It’s important to do a monthly skin self-exam, get in front of a mirror, and get to know your body,” said Dr. Jaber. “If something is different or changing, you can have it assessed.”