Be honest. At least once in your life you found yourself in front of the bathroom mirror with your phone’s flashlight and a magnifying glass, scrutinizing that mole on your shoulder. You were precariously balanced on the counter, wondering if that mole is skin cancer. You are not alone.
With the official summer season in swing, there is no greater time to talk about how to recognize skin cancer. Skin cancer is the “uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. It occurs when unrepaired DNA damage to skin cells (most often caused by ultraviolet radiation from sunshine or tanning beds) triggers mutations, or genetic defects, that lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumors” according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
There are six types of skin cancers and pre-cancers. Pre-cancer is when you have abnormal skin cells growing that have caused the appearance of a spot to change. These changes can be size, shape, and color. If you leave a pre-cancerous spot alone, it can develop into skin cancer.
- Actinic Keratosis (Pre-Cancer)- Crusty, scaly growth. This is the most common type of pre-cancer.
- Atypical Moles (Pre-Cancer)- Unusual looking non-cancerous moles. Often runs in families.
- Basal Cell Carcinoma- Open sores, pink patches, shiny bumps, or scars. The most commonly occurring form of skin cancer.
- Melanoma- Black, brown, pink, purple, or white most often resembling a mole. Often multiple hues or shades of colors within the lesion. This is the most dangerous form of skin cancer.
- Merkel Cell Carcinoma- Firm, painless lesions or nodules. Rare and aggressive.
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma- scaly red patches, open sores, warty growths or elevated growths with a central depression. Second most common skin cancer.
How To Spot It So You Can Stop It
With skin cancer, early prevention and detection are the key. The Skin Cancer Foundation, recommends a monthly head to toe self-exam to recognize any suspicious spots that are new or changing. Skin cancers are almost always curable when found and removed early. Here is what they recommend to be on the alert for:
- A skin growth that increases in size and appears pearly, translucent, tan, brown, black, or multicolored
- A mole, birthmark, beauty mark, or any brown spot that:
- changes color
- increases in size or thickness
- changes in texture
- is irregular in outline
- is bigger than 6mm or 1/4", the size of a pencil eraser
- appears after age 21
- A spot or sore that continues to itch, hurt, crust, scab, erode, or bleed
- An open sore that does not heal within three weeks.
If you do come across anything in those guidelines, talk to your doctor immediately. If you are not able to do the self-exam, or are worried about getting it right, you can ask your doctor to do it. It takes about 10mins.
Lastly, spread the word to your loved ones so they can get into the habit of the monthly self-exam, too. Don’t leave out the kids! This is a great habit to teach early on that they can carry the rest of their lives.
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