Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. It is estimated that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer (1). The unfortunate part of skin cancer is that several common causes of this cancer are due to bad habits that could potentially be avoided. It is important to know the signs of possible skin cancer growth and to get immediate help if unsure. Being aware of new or changing spots on your body can be the difference between treating skin cancer and the spread of severe cancerous cells.
What Is Skin Cancer?
Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. Basically, when unrepaired DNA damages skin cells, it triggers mutations or genetic defects that lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly (2). As the cells multiply, they start to form a mass known as a tumor. There are three major types of skin cancers to be aware of (3):
- basal cell carcinoma (BCC)
- squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)
3 Major Types of Skin Cancer
Both basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are malignant but usually do not spread to other parts of the body. These types of cancers are usually less severe than melanoma but they still require treatment. Melanoma, on the other hand, is malignant and very severe— spreading to other parts of the body very quickly. This cancer can be fatal if not caught and treated early (3).
1. Basal Cell Carcinoma Signs and Symptoms
This cancer usually occurs on sun-exposed areas of your body such as the face or neck. This cancer may appear as (5):
- a waxy bump
- a flat flesh-colored or brown scar-like lesion
- can look like a pimple at first
- bleeds easily
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2. Squamous Cell Carcinoma Signs and Symptoms
This cancer usually occurs on sun-exposed areas of your body like your ears, face or hands, but people with darker skin are more likely to develop this cancer in areas that aren’t often exposed to the sun. This cancer may appear as (5):
- a firm red lump
- a flat lesion with a scaly or rough and crusted surface
- wart-like growth
- open sore
3. Melanoma Signs and Symptoms
This cancer can develop anywhere on your body. Melanoma is commonly found on the face or torso for men and on the lower legs for women. This cancer can affect people with any skin tone. Melanoma may appear as (5):
- a large brownish spot with darker speckles
- a mole that changes in color or size
- a small lesion with an irregular border that appears red, white, blue or blue-black
- dark lesions on your palms soles, fingertips, toes, mouth, nose, vagina or anus
- sore that doesn’t heal
- itchy or tender
7 Skin Cancer Warning Signs
The following are skin cancer warning signs you should never ignore (7):
- An irregular mole- if you find a mole that doesn’t look like your other moles, or if you have one single mole in an otherwise clear part of your body, do not ignore this, visit your doctor immediately.
- A vertical dark streak on your nails- many people don’t realize that you can get skin cancer anywhere, including under your finger and toe nails.
- Vision problems- this is a symptom of melanoma of the eye, where a spot appears in the back of your eye.
- A pimple that won’t go away- squamous cell skin cancer can look like a pimple that won’t go away, or a sore that won’t heal or a scab that keeps recurring, and usually when you try squeezing it there is no puss.
- A mole on the sole of your foot- many people have benign spots on the sole of their feet or the palms of their hands, but that being said, they should always be checked out for safety especially if the mole is new or changing.
- Experiencing change after removing a mole- if you start seeing pigmentation extending outside the scar, seek medical help immediately, even if the original mole was benign.
- There is a black spot inside your cheek- you can get melanoma in your mucous membranes which include the mouth, nasal cavity, anal region and the vagina.
What are the Causes of Skin Cancer?
According to WebMD, the following are the most common causes of skin cancer:
- Exposure to UV light such as sunlight- UV rays are dangerous to the skin and can cause wrinkles, rashes and dark spots.
- Use of tanning beds- tanning beds also emits UV rays to the skin.
- Impairment of the immune system- your immunity keeps you from getting infections and protects you from cancer, if this is weakened, it is not doing its job.
- Exposure to unusually high levels of radiation- radiations such as x-rays are known carcinogens (cancer-causing agents).
- Exposure to chemicals such as arsenic (miners, farmers) and hydrocarbons (tar, oils, soot).
Who is at Risk For Skin Cancer?
According to WebMD, the following people are at greater risk of developing skin cancer:
- People with fair skin who sunburn easily
- People with light blond or red hair
- People with certain genetic disorders that deplete skin pigment
- People who were born with numerous and/or unusual moles
- If skin cancer runs in the family
When to See a Doctor
If you notice any abnormalities in your skin such as the development of moles or other irregularities, visit your doctor immediately. If you can catch cancer at its early stages you have a better chance in treating it.
Tips to Prevent Skin Cancer
According to the American Cancer Society, the following are tips to prevent skin damage:
- Limit your exposure to UV rays
- Wear sunglasses that block UV rays
- Wear a hat
- Apply sunscreen every two hours
- Protect your skin with clothing
- Seek shade
- Avoid using tanning beds and/or sunlamps
On top of those preventative tips, you can also eat antioxidant-rich foods that help protect against skin cancer. You can visit this article for more information.
Sun safety is very important and a great way to prevent any skin damage. Your skin is there to protect your body, so why not show it the same respect and protect it from any harmful elements.
- American Academy of Dermatology. (n.d.). Skin cancer. Retrieved May 08, 2017, from https://www.aad.org/media/stats/conditions/skin-cancer
- Skin Cancer Foundation. (n.d.). Skin Cancer Information. Retrieved May 08, 2017, from http://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information
- WebMD. (n.d.). Skin Cancer. Retrieved May 08, 2017, from http://www.webmd.com/melanoma-skin-cancer/melanoma-guide/skin-cancer#1
- WebMD. (n.d.). Skin Cancer. Retrieved May 08, 2017, from http://www.webmd.com/melanoma-skin-cancer/melanoma-guide/skin-cancer#2
- Mayo Clinic. (2015, June 10). Skin cancer Symptoms. Retrieved May 08, 2017, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/skin-cancer/basics/symptoms/con-20031606
- American Cancer Society . (n.d.). How Do I Protect Myself from UV Rays? Retrieved May 08, 2017, from https://www.cancer.org/cancer/skin-cancer/prevention-and-early-detection/uv-protection.html
- Pawlowski, A. (2017, April 27). 7 skin cancer warning signs you should never ignore. Retrieved May 08, 2017, from http://www.today.com/health/skin-cancer-melanoma-warning-signs-you-should-never-ignore-t110866
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