Skin Cancer Warning Signs and the Importance of Annual Screenings

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, probably making up more than half of all diagnosed cases of cancer, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). The incidence of skin cancer is rising dramatically in the United States. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), melanoma is the deadliest type of skin cancer, accounting for more than 75 percent of all deaths from skin cancer, about 8,700 last year alone.

With early detection, melanoma is highly curable. “The average five-year survival rate for individuals whose melanoma is detected and treated before it spreads to the lymph nodes is 98 percent,” cites the AAD. They also say that there is a direct correlation between the thickness of the melanoma and survival rate.

Preventative screenings save lives—period. If you’ve been putting off your annual skin exam, don’t delay any longer. It is also recommended that you examine your own skin for abnormalities, preferably once a month. If you find anything suspicious, make an appointment with your health care professional. Skin cancer is more common in men, so be sure to encourage the males in your life to get screenings as well.

Melanoma Warning Signs

The Melissa K. Bambino Melanoma Foundation sites these melanoma warning signs on its website:

Enlarging pigmented spot or mole

Changes in color of an existing mole

Changes in characteristics of skin over the pigmented spot, such as changes in size or shape

Bleeding or breaking open

Also, you can use the A-B-C-D-E guide developed by the American Academy of Dermatology:

A. ASYMMETRY: One half unlike the other half

B. BORDER Irregular: Scalloped or poorly circumscribed border

C. COLOR Varied: From one area to another, shades of brown and tan; black; sometimes white, red or blue

D. DIAMETER: Larger than 6mm as a rule (diameter of a pencil eraser)

E. EVOLVING: A mole or skin lesion that looks different than the rest or is changing in size, shape or color

Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer Warning Signs

There are many types of non-melanoma cancers, but the two most common types are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. More than 2 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are diagnosed each year, leading to about 2,000 deaths. According to the AAD, these are the early signs to be on the lookout for:

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)

This is the most common type of skin cancer. It most often appears on skin that gets lot of sun, such as the face, scalp, neck, hands and arms, but can appear elsewhere as well.

It may look like a:

Reddish patch of dry skin that won’t heal

Flesh-colored (or pink, red or brown) pearl-shaped lump

Pimple that just won’t clear

Sore that bleeds, heals and then returns

Scar that feels waxy—may be skin-colored, white or yellow

Group of slow-growing, shiny pink or red growths—look like sores, often scaly and bleed easily

Flat or sunken growth—feels hard, may be white or yellow

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)

This common type of skin cancer often appears on skin that got lots of sun, such as an ear, face, bald scalp, neck or arm, but it can appear elsewhere on the body as well.

SCC often has a reddish color and often has the following characteristics:

Hard (scaly or crusty) reddish bump, patch or pearl-shaped growth

Open sore that itches and bleeds; it can heal and return

Scaly patch on the lip; skin on the lip can get thick


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