May is skin cancer awareness month, a perfect time to speak about the warning signs of skin cancer. According to The American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. The three main types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. All three are mostly due to sun exposure (UV rays), with basal cell carcinoma being the most common.
The Most Common Skin Cancer: Basel Cell Carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma is an abnormal growth of cells found in the lower layer of the epidermis. These cells are most commonly found on sun-exposed areas such as face, scalp, neck, hands, arms, and shoulders. They typically form a slow growing lesion that does not heal and bleeds easily.
Warning signs of basal cell carcinoma include:
- Open sores that do not go away
- Open sores that bleed or ooze
- Pink fleshy lesions with a rolled or raised border
- Lesions with a pearly appearance
- Black-blue or brown areas
- Red patchy area that does not go away
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common skin cancer. Like basal cell carcinomas, they are also found on areas that are exposed to the sun such as the head, neck, lips, or outer ear. They are different from basal cell carcinomas in the way they appear on the skin. Warning signs of squamous cell carcinomas include:
- A lesion that has an ulcer or open crater, with layers of skin that haveeroded
- Thick, rough, scaly patch that easily bleeds
- A lesion with a crusted surface
Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. However, if caught early, it can be treated very easily with a 98% cure rate. Melanoma arises from the melanocytes (pigment cells) in your skin, again mostly caused by sun exposure. The UV rays target the melanocytes and cause mutations in the cells. Those mutations cause the cells to form very quickly, producing malignant tumors. Melanoma can form its own mole or can be found in an existing mole. Genetics can play a role as well, but people that are more prone to forming melanoma are those who are fair skinned with red hair, those who have freckles, and people that easily sunburn. The warning signs are different from basal and squamous cell carcinomas. The warning signs of melanoma can be remembered by ABCDE:
- A: Asymmetry: one side of the mole does not look identical to the other.
- B: Border: the borders of the mole are an irregular shape and not a perfect circle
- C: Color: There are different colors in the mole such as red, blue, black, white
- D: Diameter: The diameter of the lesion is greater than 6 mm
- E: Evolving: A mole that is quickly evolving/changing than all your other moles
Another warning sign for melanoma is the “ugly duckling sign.” This is when you see a mole that is changing fast, or looks different than all the other moles on your body.
Now that you know the warning signs, you should also know the ways to prevent these cancers. Skin cancer prevention includes:
- Use a broad spectrum SPF of 30 or higher applied 20 minutes prior to sun exposure and re-applied every 2 hours
- Seek shade between 10 AM and 4 PM
- Wear sun protective clothing such as broad-brimmed hats, sunglasses with UV protection, swim shirts
- Get yearly skin exams by a dermatology expert
- Check your skin once a month
- Avoid sunburn
- Avoid tanning beds
At our dermatology offices, dermatologists Dr. Kenneth Egan, Dr. Rand Werbitt and PA, Jessica Mangiaracina specialize in all of your family's skin care needs in general medical, surgical and cosmetic dermatology including skin cancer, molluscum contagiosum impetigo, acne, eczema, warts, moles, fungal nail infections, rashes and scars. Our offices are located in the Fairfield County, CT towns of Danbury, Norwalk and Ridgefield.
-Jessica Mangiaracina, PA-C