Skin Cancer: How to Spot the Early Warning Signs
After a summer of soaking up the sun, it’s time to start a routine where you regularly look for the early warning signs of skin cancer. Skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer and it can be scary to think about. The good news is that it’s preventable, detectable and the earlier you catch it the more likely your following treatment can stop the spreading.
The goal is to inspect your skin often, find it when it’s still new and then visit your doctor immediately. In addition, you will want to have your doctor check for any signs of skin cancer during your regular yearly physical checkups. In between checkups, it’s on you to monitor your skin to make sure there’s nothing unhealthy creeping up.
You can’t perform this important health inspection without knowing what to look for. We want to help you understand what you need to look for and when it is important for you to visit your doctor for a more thorough examination or even treatment.
Different Types of Skin Cancer
Before creating an inspection routine, it’s good to understand the different types of skin cancer. Knowledge will only help in your goal of keeping your body cancer-free.
The different forms of skin cancer include:
The most dangerous form of skin cancer. Melanoma is the one you are looking for when you are trying to detect the warning signs. If caught early enough, melanoma is almost always treatable. If not treated, it is prone to spread and can be fatal. Remember, melanoma often looks like innocent moles and can even develop from moles.
These are very common and start out as benign despite resembling melanoma. Since they are pre-cancerous, it is a good idea to remove them before they evolve. They are also an early warning sign of melanoma. Remember, the more atypical moles you have the higher your chances are of developing melanoma.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
The second most common type of skin cancer. This is when abnormal cells experience uncontrolled growth from the squamous cells in the skin’s outermost layer. This is usually caused by long-time exposure to UV rays and some experts contribute tanning beds to an increase in young women.
Merkel Cell Carcinoma
This is a rare form of skin cancer but still needs to be on your radar. It is brought on by a combination of sun exposure and weak immunity. Merkel is fast-moving and tends to aggressively recur and spread. Middle-aged fair-skinned people need to be particularly mindful of this form of skin cancer.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Developed in skin’s basal cells, basal cell carcinoma are aggressive growths or lesions that rarely spread. While not life-threatening, it needs to be treated immediately so that it does not cause any disfigurement.
Another form of pre-cancer that people need to be on the lookout for is actinic keratosis. These skin lesions are small and you are more likely to detect them by touch than by sight. It’s a bit tricky but be sure to check your legs and shins were actinic keratosis commonly grows.
Now that you have a foundation of the different kinds of skin cancer, let’s look at how you can detect the early warning signs.
Squamous and basal cell skin cancer carry less risk but are more common than the more dangerous types. To detect basal cell carcinoma, one thing to look for are moles or spots that are flat with yellow areas or small pink or red bumps with areas of other colours. To detect squamous cell carcinoma, inspect your entire body but pay close attention to your face, lip, necks, ear and hands. In general, be on the lookout for scaly or crusty red areas, raised lumps, warts, growths or open sores that refuse to heal.
Remember, with respect to detection, there isn’t much visual difference between different types of skin cancer. Once you detect a warning sign, don’t panic or jump to conclusions. Visit your doctor where they can confirm and provide the appropriate treatment.
Moles are very common so noticing one on your body shouldn’t be immediate cause for concern. Normal moles are characterized as evenly coloured, either consistently flat or raised and should be less than a quarter of an inch in diameter.
Remember, most moles appear during childhood or in adolescence. Have your doctor look at any moles, either new or pre-existing, just in case. This will also allow you or your doctor to chart any changes in the mole, which can be a precursor to the onset of melanoma.
Use the ABCDE Rule
The ABCDE rule is simple to follow and will help you determine if a spot or a mole is potentially cancerous. It is used most often to detect melanoma but is a valuable tool with respect to monitoring your skin. To use this screening technique, make sure you are in a properly lit room and have access to both a handheld mirror and a full-length to inspect moles and dark spots.
You can also take photos of the mole or spot in case you can’t get a doctor’s appointment right away. This will allow your doctor to check if there were any changes from when you noticed it to the time of your appointment.
Using the ABCDE rule, here is what you look for:
- Do the two sides of the mole or spot match?
- Is the mole or spot’s border not refined?
- Is the colour inconsistent and includes different dark shades with patches of pink, red, white or blue?
- Is the spot larger than ¼ inch across?
- While each sign is important, this is a big one. Is the mole or spot changing? Does it look bigger or darker or has the shape changed at all?
Other warning signs you want to watch out for include:
- Any sore that takes a long time to heal.
- New swelling or redness that is spreading.
- The arrival of new sensations like itching.
- The surface of the mole starts to bleed or ooze.
- A bump or lump appears on the surface of the mole or spot.
Now that you know how to perform an inspection on your skin, be diligent and do it often.
When to Consult with your Doctor
With any cancer pre-screening it is wise to play it safe. You need to perform regular and thorough inspections at least once a month. Make it part of your normal routine, like after showering. Make an appointment with your doctor the moment you are concerned with anything you find. By being in regular contact with your doctor, you can chart the evolution of any moles or spots and increase the likelihood of catching something early before it becomes a real threat.
Always Protect your Skin
You need to take care of your skin. Besides making skin cancer detection part of your monthly health routine, you need to limit exposure to the sun and make sure you are using sunscreen on every uncovered part of your body when you are in the sun. This doesn’t mean to only lather up when you go to the beach. You can apply sunscreen to your face and body anytime you go outside on a sunny day.
When you aren’t enjoying the sun, you need to be monitoring your skin for any developments that could be cancerous. Even moles and spots that are likely to be benign must be treated immediately.
It’s never a bad idea to consult with your doctor about your skin and bring up any concerns with respect to skin cancer. Partner with them to make sure your skin is healthy and that you are safe from any life-threatening danger.
Follow these recommendations and you can significantly reduce your risk of developing any form of skin cancer. The time spent integrating regular inspections of your skin could save your life, so it’s time well spent.