What it is?
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. The two most common types are basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer. They usually form on the head, face, neck, hands and arms. Another type of skin cancer, melanoma, is more dangerous but less common.
Anyone can get skin cancer, but it is more common in people who
Spend a lot of time in the sun or have been sunburned
Have light-colored skin, hair and eyes
Have a family member with skin cancer
Are over age 50
The Warning Signs of Skin Cancer
Like many cancers, skin cancers — including melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma — start as precancerous lesions. These precancerous lesions are changes in skin that are not cancer but could become cancer over time. An estimated 40% to 50% of fair-skinned people who live to be 65 will develop at least one skin cancer. Learn to spot the early warning signs. Skin cancer can be cured if it’s found and treated early.
Actinic Keratosis (Solar Keratosis)
These small, scaly patches are caused by too much sun, and commonly occur on the head, neck, or hands, but can be found elsewhere. They can be an early warning sign of skin cancer, but it’s hard to tell whether a particular patch will continue to change over time and become cancerous. Most do not, but doctors recommend early treatment to prevent the development of squamous cell skin cancer. Fair-skinned, blond, or red-haired people with blue or green eyes are most at risk.
Actinic Cheilitis (Farmer’s Lip)
Related to actinic keratosis, actinic cheilitis is a precancerous condition that usually appears on the lower lips. Scaly patches or persistent roughness of the lips may be present. Less common symptoms include swelling of the lip, loss of the sharp border between the lip and skin, and prominent lip lines. Actinic cheilitis may evolve into invasive squamous cell carcinoma if not treated.
The cutaneous horn appears as a funnel-shaped growth that extends from a red base on the skin. It is composed of compacted keratin (the same protein in nails). It is a specialized type of actininc keratosis. The size and shape of the growth can vary considerably, but most are a few millimeters in length. Squamous cell carcinoma can be found at the base. It usually occurs in fair-skinned elderly adults with a history of significant sun exposure.
When Is a Mole a Problem?
A mole (nevus) is a benign growth of melanocytes, cells that gives skin its color. Although very few moles become cancer, abnormal or atypical moles can develop into melanoma over time. “Normal” moles can appear flat or raised or may begin flat and become raised over time. The surface is typically smooth. Normal moles are round or oval and no larger than a pencil eraser. Most moles develop in youth or young adulthood. It’s unusual to acquire a mole in the adult years.
Dysplastic Nevi (Atypical Moles)
Atypical moles are not cancer, but they can become cancer. They can be found in sun-exposed or sun-protected areas of the body. Atypical moles are larger (one-quarter inch across or larger) and more irregular in shape, with notched or fading borders. They may be flat or raised or the surface smooth or rough. They are typically of mixed color, including pink, red, tan, and brown.
Know Your ABCDEs
Most moles on a person’s body look similar to one another. A mole or freckle that looks different from the others or that has a diameter larger than a pencil eraser or any characteristics of the ABCDEs of melanoma should be checked by a dermatologist. It could be cancerous. The ABCDEs are important characteristics to consider when examining your moles or other skin growths, so learn them in the slides to come.
Know Your ABCDEs: ‘A’ is for Asymmetry
Asymmetry means one half of a mole does not match the other half. Normal moles are symmetrical. When checking your moles or freckles, draw an imaginary line through the middle and compare the two halves. If they do not look the same on both sides, have it checked by a dermatologist.
Know Your ABCDEs: ‘B’ is for Border
If the border or edges of the mole are ragged, blurred, or irregular, have it checked by a dermatologist. Melanoma lesions often have uneven borders.
Know Your ABCDEs: ‘C’ is for Color
A mole that does not have the same color throughout or that has shades of tan, brown, black, blue, white, or red is suspicious. Normal moles are usually a single shade of color. A mole of many shades or that has lightened or darkened should be checked by a doctor.
Know Your ABCDEs: ‘D’ is for Diameter
A mole is suspicious if the diameter is larger than the eraser of a pencil. Benign moles are usually less than 6 millimeters in diameter.
Know Your ABCDEs: ‘E’ is for Evolving
A mole that is evolving – shrinking, growing larger, changing color, begins to itch or bleed – should also be checked. If a portion of the mole appears elevated, or raised from the skin, have it looked at by a doctor. Melanoma lesions often grow in size or change in height rapidly.