We don’t often think of our skin as an organ, but it is just as much one as your stomach or brain. The skin is tough and has many different layers of defense to keep off harmful invaders that can harm the rest of the body. But with that in mind, it’s important to know that the skin isn’t infallible. It’s just as susceptible to illnesses and diseases as your other organs. Sadly, one of those diseases is cancer.
There are three types of skin cancer: basal and squamous cell, and melanoma. These types of cancers are found most often in areas that are exposed to the most sun, like the head, neck, and arms. This doesn’t mean the other areas of your body aren’t just as susceptible, though. But how will you know if you have skin cancer? Is that mole just a mole, or is it something much worse?
Basal cell carcinomas appear in many different forms:
-Tissue may appear similar to a scar
-Itchy, raised red patches
-Small pink or red bumps with darker areas that have a pearly shine to them
-Strange pink growth with jagged or raised edges
-Open and oozing sores that just won’t seem to heal
Squamous cell carcinomas, on the other hand, show themselves:
-Rough scabbed red patches that bleed
-Growths or lumps with a dip in the center
-Open oozing sores with crusted areas that won’t heal
If these weren’t scary enough, both types of cancer can develop and look just like normal skin.
Skin conditions such as actinic keratosis and moles that appeared later in life should all be evaluated by a practitioner to ensure they are not skin cancer. If you have a mole that has changed in shape, size, or color, then cancer could be developing. If you have a spot like this, get it evaluated by a practitioner as it could be melanoma.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) you can follow the “ABCDE Rule” * to check for signs of melanoma:
-A is for Asymmetry: One half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.
-B is for Border: The edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.
-C is for Color: The color is not the same all over and may include shades of brown or black, or sometimes with patches of pink, red, white, or blue.
-D is for Diameter: The spot is larger than 6 millimeters across (about ¼ inch – the size of a pencil eraser), although melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.
-E is for Evolving: The mole is changing in size, shape, or color.
Some melanomas and skin cancers don’t match the descriptions mentioned above. It’s important to know your body so that you can notice if something has changed.
* “Skin Cancer.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 24 May 2016, www.cdc.gov/cancer/skin/basic_info/symptoms.htm.
Tim Reynolds, M.D.