Skin cancer is more common than any other kind of cancer in the US. Skin protects the tissues and other organs beneath as well as offering a barrier against infection. An annual skin check is one of the best ways to help protect yourself from skin cancer. Here are the basics of skin cancer and skin checks:
About Skin Cancer
There are three major kinds of skin cancer: basal cell, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) typically appears in areas of skin that are exposed to the sun. BCC is the most common type of skin cancer. It looks like a reddish patch of skin or may look like a lump that is flesh colored. Some are also pink, red or brown, or may look like a pimple that won’t go away. Some BCCs look like a sore, and the area will bleed and heal but the sore comes back. Skin that feels waxy and looks white or yellow may also be a sign of BCC. A BCC will not usually spread (metastasize).
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) also is more likely to appear in area with a lot of sun exposure, but it may also show up in areas that are shielded from the sun. The carcinoma is most likely to look like a scaly, crusty, hard reddish bump or patch. SCC can also be a sore that itches and bleeds – it may heal over and then come back again. On the lips, it may look like a scaly patch, and the skin may become thickened. SCCs don’t usually spread.
Melanoma is the least common kind of skin cancer; it’s dangerous because it can spread. It can occur anywhere on the body. Melanomas may look like an area of pigment or a mole; the color varies from brown or tan to black and occasionally it may be other colors, such as red. Two major signs of melanoma are that the cancer changes in size and has an irregular border. Most are larger than a pencil eraser. The sore may break open or bleed.
Why Have a Skin Exam
Unlike many other kinds of cancer, which are found with lab tests or imaging studies, you can see skin cancers with the naked eye. You can perform a skin exam yourself with a hand mirror that allows you to see all areas of your body, but a doctor is trained to spot signs of skin cancer. You should conduct monthly skin checks yourself and have a full skin exam once a year.
About the Skin Exam
The skin exam will take about 10 to 15 minutes. The doctor will review your and your family’s medical history and perform a head-to-toe examination. Make sure to bring the doctor’s attention to any areas you’re worried about. Don’t wear nail polish for the exam, as the doctor also needs to see the tissue under the nails. If the doctor finds an area that raises concerns, he or she will take a thin sliver of the tissue for microscopic examination. If the examination shows skin cancer, you’ll need to have the cancer removed, a procedure that can be done in the doctor’s office in many cases.
Skin cancer can be treated if caught early. An annual skin exam is one of the best ways to make that early catch. Please contact us to schedule an appointment for a full-body skin exam or for any questions you might have.