Signs & Symptoms of Skin Cancer
With skin cancer diagnoses in 2018 at 7.1% of Floridians, knowing the signs and symptoms is important.
There are certain risk factors that may make you more likely to develop skin cancer. Be sure you know your risks and protect yourself whenever possible.
Pay close attention to your moles, freckles, and birthmarks. Checking your skin monthly can help catch something before it becomes problematic. Being aware of the warning signs and knowing when to see a doctor to have a potential problem looked at can help with early detection and more effective skin cancer treatment.
Basal and Squamous Cell Carcinomas Signs
Basal and squamous cell carcinomas, nonmelanoma skin cancers, are most often found on areas of your skin that are exposed to the sun regularly, but it can develop anywhere. Signs of basal and squamous cell carcinomas could be:
- Flat yellow areas that look like a scar, but with no associated injury.
- Rough, scaly, or raised red patches that are itchy or inclined to bleed.
- Raised growths or lumps, sometimes with a pit in the center. If it is a basal cell, then they may have blood vessels looking like the spokes of a wheel.
- Small pink or red bumps which are translucent and may have blue, brown, or black areas within them.
- Warts that are new or won’t go away.
- Open sores that either refuse to heal or keep coming back.
This form of cancer is very common and very treatable. However, once you have had one instance, you are likely to have others, so you should be particularly careful about checking your skin after a nonmelanoma skin cancer has been treated.
Melanoma Signs to Look For
Melanoma is less common, but more dangerous. That’s because it tends to spread quicker than other types of skin cancer if not detected and treated early. Signs of melanoma include:
- A mole that develops later in life or an existing mole changing in size, shape, or color. Moles that are larger than 1/4 inch across can also be a red flag, as can ones which have an irregular border or color variations. A mole you have had all your life can sometimes become cancerous, so you should check your moles for changes frequently.
- Sores that refuse to heal.
- A spot that is expanding into the surrounding skin.
- Redness or swelling around a mole.
- A mole becoming itchy or painful.
- Scaliness, oozing, or bleeding on the surface of a mole.
If in doubt, your doctor may choose to remove an apparently innocent mole rather than take the risk. They will then test it to see if it has cancerous cells. If so, they’ll determine which kind so they can refer you to an oncologist who can prescribe a treatment plan.
Skin cancer sometimes looks differently for people with darker skin tones. Unfortunately, it's a myth that having dark skin will protect you from skin cancer, which sometimes causes darker-skinned people to miss cancer in its early stages. If you have dark skin, you should pay special attention to spots on your hands, the soles of your feet, and under your nails. This can indicate a particularly bad form of melanoma.
What to Do if You Find Signs of Skin Cancer?
You should be examined by your doctor if you find anything that might be a sign of skin cancer. It is better to be safe, and if it turns out not to be cancer, then you will have peace of mind.
A skin cancer specialist may be able to tell whether the mark is cancerous or not without a biopsy. However, if they are at all suspicious that the mark may be cancer, they will perform a skin biopsy, and may remove the suspicious area (this is called an excisional biopsy). In most cases the lab will make a diagnosis by having a skin cancer specialist view the tissue under a microscope. If the cancer has been detected early enough, a dermatologist may be able to treat it. If not, they will refer you to a skin cancer oncologist.
Skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer, so we should all be checking our skin regularly for changes and lesions that might indicate cancer. If you find a suspicious area, seek medical attention.