How to Watch for Skin Cancer




It seems like we hear about someone getting diagnosed with skin cancer all the time.  While it may seem commonplace and less concerning than other kinds of cancer, it is still cancer and it is still life threatening.  The fact of the matter is, skin cancer is deadly if left undetected or untreated.  But, if we have never had skin cancer, it may not enter our mind often, or at all, and so, we may not notice.  While it does not need to consume your thoughts every day, it is a good idea to do routine checks to make sure you do not visibly see anything concerning.  Many people know this but have no idea what to look for or what may be “concerning.”


A visual exam of your body should begin with the areas that see the most sun exposure.  These are the most likely places skin cancer might develop.  Start by looking at your entire head, neck, arms, and hands and then move on to the rest of your body from there.  There are two kinds of concerning things to look for: basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas.  These kinds of cells may appear as new growths on your skin or as changes to your skin.  While not all are cancerous, many are.  Even you are a person with many moles on your body, these cell growths will look different.  Some refer to it as looking for the “ugly duckling.”  If you notice that “one of these things is not like the other” it is wise to consult your physician to have them do a thorough check.  It is important to hvae a baseline so even if you do not notice anything concerning, or if you have scar tissue or moles that have been there a long time, make note of them as much as possible so that you can then look for things that are out of the ordinary.  The American Cancer Society provides a checklist of warning signs to watch for, if you notice any of these things pay a visit to your physician to be checked out, if for no other reason than peace of mind.


Basal cell carcinomas can appear in a number of different ways:


  • Flat, firm, pale or yellow areas, similar to a scar
  • Raised reddish patches that might be itchy
  • Small, pink or red, translucent, shiny, pearly bumps, which might have blue, brown, or black areas
  • Pink growths with raised edges and a lower area in their center, which might contain abnormal blood vessels
  • Open sores (which may have oozing or crusted areas) that don’t heal, or that heal and then come back


Squamous cell carcinomas can appear as:


  • Rough or scaly red patches, which might crust or bleed
  • Raised growths or lumps, sometimes with a lower area in the center
  • Open sores (which may have oozing or crusted areas) that don’t heal, or that heal and then come back
  • Wart-like growths



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