Most of us know that using sunscreen is an easy and effective way to prevent skin cancer. It’s a simple step to add to your daily routine, but many people don’t, perhaps because skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. When skin cancer is detected early, the five-year survival rate is 99 percent, and more than two people die from skin cancer every hour in this country, according to the Foundation. When it comes to skin cancer, it’s important that people know what to look for, but one symptom in particular is often overlooked. Read on to find out what it is and when you should visit a dermatologist for a checkup.
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The Mayo Clinic says skin cancer most commonly occurs on the “scalp, face, lips, ears, neck, chest, arms and hands, and legs in women.” But the site adds that “it can also appear in areas that receive less light: on the palms of your hands, under your fingernails or toenails, and on your genitals.”
The three main types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma, experts explain. Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas occur in sun-exposed parts of the body, while melanoma “can develop anywhere on your body, in otherwise normal skin or in a mole that has become cancerous.”
Irregular moles are a common sign of skin cancer, and keeping an eye on them is a good way to catch any trouble spots before they get worse. “The ABCD app can help you check your moles and detect skin cancer early,” it advises Cheryl RosenMD, Director of Dermatology at BowTied Life.
“A is for asymmetry,” he explains. “Look for moles that are asymmetrical or uneven.” B stands for border: “Watch out for irregular or jagged borders on moles,” she says. For C color, melanoma can be black to pink. And D is for diameter. “A mole larger than 6mm can be a sign of melanoma,” Rosen explains, but she cautions that moles can get smaller and grow larger over time.
What most people don’t know is that skin cancer can appear as a pimple-like bump on the skin rather than a mole. When this happens, some may ignore or reject it. Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) grows slowly and can look like a “harmless pimple, scar, or sore,” the AAD warns.
So, is that newly noticed bump on your skin an annoying pimple or something more serious? According to the GentleCure blog, “one of the surest ways to tell the difference between acne and skin cancer is whether or not the pimple goes away.” “Even the deepest acne will fade with time, but skin cancer requires professional treatment.” A spot caused by skin cancer grows larger and changes in appearance, the site says, “and the average pimple stays on the skin for about a week before breaking off.”
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Because people are so familiar with moles as a symptom of skin cancer, they may ignore other warning signs. “Sometimes the first sign of skin cancer is a red or brown bump that looks like a scab or wart,” says Moffitt Cancer Center.
It is also important to know that while these skin cancer symptoms may appear on the outside, some warning signs may not be visible on the skin at all. “Melanoma near the lungs can cause shortness of breath, and melanoma in the head can cause headaches or vision changes,” advises Moffitt.
Knowing how skin cancer develops is an important part of self-examination. “Skin cancer is very treatable when caught early, but can be fatal if left untreated,” warns Rosen. “So always check your skin for any changes and see your doctor if you have any concerns.”