Number of skin cancers has increased dramatically in recent years. This includes both melanoma and non-melanoma forms of skin cancer. Melanoma cancer originates from melanocytes, skin cells which give pigment or color to our skin. It is estimated that 1 in 50 Americans will develop melanoma in their lifetime. One patient dies from melanoma every hour. Non-melanoma skin cancers, mainly basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, are very common. Approximately 3.5 million cases are diagnosed annually.
Skin cancer can start as an innocuous appearing spot. These lesions can grow and become symptomatic, with bleeding, crusting, scabbing, and pain. Lesions can also grow rapidly, change in size or color.
So, what are the signs of skin cancer? Non-melanoma skin cancers usually present as red, crusted, bleeding, scabbed or scaly lesions. Some lesions, especially nodular basal cell carcinoma, can look like a flesh colored bump with dilated blood vessels. These skin cancers are usually on sun exposed skin, with scalp, face, hands and forearms being the most common locations.
Melanoma can present as a new “mole” or a changing mole. These lesions are usually dark in color, but can vary in color from light brown to dark brown, black, blue or red. A rare subset of melanoma, known as amelanotic melanoma, can present as reddish or flesh color bump. When examining moles, it’s important to remember the ABCDE’s:
- A is for Asymmetry: You may find that a new mole has appeared which has an irregular shape or its two halves look different from each other.
- B is for Border: The edges of the mole do not appear as they normally should. For instance, the edges are rough or blurred or jagged.
- C is for Color: Moles generally tend to be of a single color with shades of brown being the most common colors. Melanoma usually presents with multiple colors or shows color irregularity.
- D is for Diameter: Moles larger than 6 millimeters (about size of a pencil eraser) are worrisome for melanoma.
- E is for Evolving/Elevated: Moles that are changing or elevated (raised) should be checked to make sure they are not melanoma skin cancer.
It is recommended for everyone to have a skin check every year. If you are concerned about a specific spot, get it checked sooner. Depending on what the doctor thinks, he or she may decide to do a biopsy which will then confirm if there’s any cause for concern. If it turns out that the lesion is indeed cancerous, then the doctor will book you for surgery. The cancerous cells will be surgically cut out through excision. To learn more about this particular surgery, click here.
If you haven’t had a skin check this year or have a concerning spot, schedule an appointment with Dr. Goldenberg for a consultation.
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Reviewed by Dr. Goldenberg