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doctor checking a mole for signs of skin cancer

Knowing the Signs of Skin Cancer Can Make All the Difference

Skin Cancer Symptoms

Skin cancer symptoms involve abnormal skin cells in the outermost skin layer called the epidermis. Changes in cell DNA can cause skin cells to multiply too fast and form tumors. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, in the United States, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer.

There are different types of skin cancer including basal cell, squamous cell and melanoma. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, the two top causes of skin cancer is exposure to UV rays from the sun and tanning booths.

Both squamous cell and basal cell tend to appear on areas of the body that receive the most sun exposure, such as the neck, shoulders and face. Melanoma skin cancer can also develop in areas of the body exposed to the sun, but it is also found on other parts that do not receive as much sun exposure.

Eight Skin Cancer Symptoms to Watch for

Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer. This being said, any type of skin cancer can become significant and even lead to disfigurement if it is not treated. The good news is that when it is caught early, most forms of skin cancer are treatable, and the prognosis is good. That is why it is so critical to know what signs of skin cancer to watch for.

Although most moles are not harmful, some can be cancerous. So, it is essential to determine the difference. For instance, normal moles tend to be even in color and either raised or flat, but not both. Most are also no bigger than the width of a pencil eraser.

Signs a mole may be suspicious and could be a sign of skin cancer include the following:

  • A change in a mole: Usually, moles that are harmless do not change over time. But a mole or skin growth that changes color or shape may be a sign of skin cancer. Also, if a mole starts to bleed, crust or becomes shiny, it could be an indication that it requires further evaluation by a doctor.
  • Asymmetry: Typically, moles that are noncancerous match on both sides. When two halves of the mole are not the same, it could indicate melanoma.
  • A growth that has a lower center and raised edges: Most moles are either raised or flat throughout. A possible sign of skin cancer is a mole that has raised borders and a lower center. It may also have pink growths around the edges due to abnormal blood vessel growth.
  • A sore that does not heal: Most skin sores heal over time. But if a sore does not get better or becomes worse, it could be a sign of some form of skin cancer. For example, if a mole crusts, oozes or if it heals and then becomes worse again, you should have it checked.
  • A rough or scaly patch of skin: Not all skin cancers involve a change in a mole. A growth that is firm, flat and looks like a scar can be a sign of squamous skin cancer.
  • A mole that has uneven color: Most moles that are noncancerous are some shade of brown consistently throughout the growth. But cancerous moles may not be the same color over the entire mole. For instance, the mole may be dark brown, black and light brown in spots. Melanoma may also have patches of red, pink or white.
  • Uneven edges: Normal moles tend to have regular and even borders or edges. If a mole has a ragged or irregular edge, it can be an indication of melanoma.
  • A mole or growth that is six millimeters or larger: Not all large moles are cancerous, and melanomas can also be small. But it is still best to have a mole that is larger than six millimeters across checked out by a dermatologist.

When to See a Doctor

Some moles may be present at birth, but many others may appear in childhood or young adulthood. Once they develop, they typically stay the same shape and size. Other skin growths, such as freckles and skin tags, may also develop at any time in a person’s life. While it may not be necessary to take notice of every new freckle, you should do self-skin cancer checks to look for abnormalities.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), about 50% of melanoma skin cancers are self-detected. That is why skin self-exams are so vital. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, adults should do self-exams from head to toe about once a month to check for skin abnormalities.

If you find any of the above abnormalities, including changes in a mole, sores that do not heal or a bleeding mole, it is vital to see your doctor as soon as possible. It is also important to talk with your doctor about how often you should have a skin cancer screening. The frequency of screening may depend on several factors, such as your family history and extent of your sun exposure.

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