Skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer. If found early, it is very treatable. Early detection is the key to successful treatment and management. Having a complete body check by a dermatologist or a plastic surgeon can make the difference between successful diagnosis and treatment. Generally, skin cancer is related to prolonged exposure to the sun, but it can also be found in areas which have not been directly exposed.
There are four main types of skin cancer: Basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, melanoma, and Non-melanoma skin cancer.
Skin cancer can develop anywhere, but the most common areas include the face, lips, ears, scalp, neck, chest, back, arms, and legs.
- Basal Cell Carcinomas: typically occur in areas that are exposed to the sun. A basal cell may appear as a dry patch of skin that does not go away, a pearly colored small bump or lesion, a flat flesh tone or a brownish lesion, or a scab that bleeds and doesn’t heal or continues to recur.
- Squamous Cell Carcinomas: usually appear as a firm nodules or bumps that are reddish in color, or as a flat lesion that has a scaly, crusted surface.
- Melanomas: are the most serious type of skin cancer and can be deadly if not treated early. They usually appear on the face and the torso in men, and in woman, it often appears on the legs. Melanomas may appear in areas that have not been exposed to the sun. In people of darker skin tones, melanoma can often appear on the palms of the hands or the soles of the feet, and under the fingernails and toenails of the patient.
The signs of melanoma can be as follows; a large, brownish colored spot that appears to have some speckling; a mole which changes in color, or feels different than it had before or starts to bleed; a small lesion that has irregular margins or edges; any lesion that give you a burning sensation of that itches constantly; any dark lesion that appears on the soles of your feet, the palms of your hands, or any of the mucous membranes that are found in your mouth, nose, anus or vagina.
- Non-melanoma skin cancers may also include:
- Kaposi Sarcoma: a rare type of skin cancer usually found in patients with a weakened immune system. It usually manifests as purple or red patches on the skin and on the mucous membranes.
- Merkel Cell Carcinomas: usually found on the skin or just below the skin and is often found in hair follicles. These lesions are often seen on the scalp, head and can also be found on the torso.
- Sebaceous gland carcinomas: are generally very aggressive and rare. The origin is usually found in the sebaceous (oil) glands in the skin. They often present as hard, painless nodules. They can occur anywhere, but most often are found in the eyelids of the patient. Often, they are misdiagnosed.
Any changes in your skin should be checked by a physician to determine if they are malignant and need further treatment.
Risk Factors for skin cancer include:
- A history of having sunburns as a child or a teenager
- Excessive expose to the sun and exposure to tanning beds
- Living in areas of high and prolonged sunshine and high-altitude climates
- Fair skin, blond or red hair, or people with lighter colored eyes are at higher risk
- Precancerous lesion- these may include actinic keratosis, a scaly patch of skin that does not go away.
- Moles, especially those that change in appearance
- Family history of skin cancer
- Recurrence of skin cancer: if you have had it once, you are at increased risk to develop additional skin cancers
- Exposure to radiation: this was often seen in people who have had eczema or acne and received treatments.
- Weakened immune system – this is seen in patients who have received solid organ transplants, those suffering with AIDS or HIV, Crohn’s Disease, and Rheumatoid Arthritis for example.
Please click on this link to see some of the most common types of skin cancer and what to look for:
In summary, things to look for include:
- Small, scaly patches that do not go away
- A lesion on the lower lip, scaly patches or an uneven feel to the lip, a persistent swelling of the lip
- A growth that appears like a horn extending upward from the skin.
- Moles – a mole that is flat and changes and becomes raised, becomes irregular, bleeds, has a different color border all need to be check
- Large moles (bigger than ¼-inch across) that have irregular margins or borders, or with color variegation
- A mole with asymmetry (doesn’t look the same on both sides)
- A border around a mole, especially one that is jagged or irregular.
- A mole that is more than one color or changes color
- A mole that is bigger than the width of a pencil eraser
- A mole that starts to itch or bleed, grows larger or elevates in height. Melanomas are known to do this
- Examine your body regularly. With a cell phone, make yourself a recurring appointment (once a month) to due a self check, remember to check the areas that you can’t see, i.e. your scalp, vagina, buttocks, soles of your feet and your groin are often areas overlooked.
- If you are experiencing hormone changes be aware of any changing during these critical times. This includes entering your teens, pregnancy, menopause, or on any hormone medications.
- Remember to check the odd places a skin cancer may show up cannot be stressed enough; under the fingernails (it may appear as dark marbling streaks), on the bottom of your feet (this is a common form of cancer in Afro-American’s and people of Asian descent), palms of your hands (this is also more common in Afro-Americans) and therefore it is sometimes easily missed, inner ear, eyelids, scalp (ask your barber and beautician to look at your scalp for you, they are often the ones who pick this up), lips, tongue, skin cancers can even occur on the iris and white part of your eye (conjunctiva) and are often picked up by an annual eye exam.
No one knows your body better than you do. Be aware of any changes and don’t wait to get them checked. Any suspicious skin lesion should be biopsied for a definitive diagnosis and then a plan of treatment may begin. In many cases, a simple removal may be all that is required. In other types of skin cancer, chemotherapy or other treatments may be required and your plastic surgeon or dermatologist can refer you to an oncologist if necessary.