If you or someone close to you has been diagnosed with skin cancer, basic information about the disease can be helpful in planning and understanding your treatment. When caught and treated early, 99% of skin cancers can be cured.
Mohs Surgery is the most effective treatment for most types of skin cancer.
Learn about self-examinations by downloading a free Skin Cancer Self-Exam Kit.
What Is Skin Cancer?
While normal skin cells grow, develop, and die in predictable cycles, skin cancer develops when skin cells grow out of control. Instead of dying, the damaged DNA within skin cancer cells causes them to continue growing and produce more abnormal cells. They also tend to invade other tissues. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the US.
Causes of Skin Cancer
The primary cause of skin cancer is exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) light which damages the DNA with repeated exposure. People with chronic exposure to UV light, whether in the outdoors or in tanning booths, are at increased risk of developing skin cancer. The World Health Organization recently elevated tanning beds to its highest cancer risk category, the same rating it gives to cigarettes. Immuno-suppressed patients, such as organ transplant recipients or patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) are at greatly increased risk as well, because their immune systems are not as capable or warding off cancerous cells.
Skin Cancer Signs
While it's important to have a dermatologist examine any suspicious areas, being aware of the signs of skin cancer can help you determine when you should seek a professional opinion. Skin cancer signs differ between the various types. Some warning signs include:
Changes in mole shape or pigmentation
A new growth or an older growth which changes in size or shape
A dark spot that appears suddenly next to or within an existing mole
An existing mole begins crusting, oozing, or bleeding
Pigment spreads from the border of a mole into surrounding skin
A mole becomes tender, painful, or itchy
Fortunately, most skin lesions are not skin cancers, but a dermatologist is most qualified to make a definite diagnosis.
Skin Cancer Diagnosis
If you notice a suspicious change on your skin, it's important to see a dermatologist for a skin cancer screening as soon as possible. Examining your skin on a monthly basis is the best way to catch skin cancer as early as possible. Pay attention to any changes. Get to know the pattern of your moles, scars, spots, freckles, and other marks on your skin so you can detect any changes. Early diagnosis and treatment increase your chances of curing the cancer.
The most common way to diagnose skin cancer is through a biopsy. The dermatologist will numb the area, then remove all or a portion of the suspicious area. The tissue is usually sent to a lab to be examined under a microscope by a dermatopathologist. Your doctor will want to know when you first noticed the change in your skin, your symptoms, and your history of sun exposure.
The ABCDEs of Skin Cancer
Melanin cells that form into a malignant tumor (associated with skin cancer) are referred to as melanoma; and with this condition, an individual can either notice a new mole, or an existing mole changing its shape or getting larger. There is something known as the ABCDE factors of assessing whether or not a mole can be melanoma, and therefore skin cancer. The ‘A’ which refers to asymmetry, is the first sign of this. Does the mole (or now larger mole) have an asymmetric shape, meaning that if you drew a line down the center of it, the two sides would not be the same? If so, this could be a sign of skin cancer.
B. "B" s for Borders
Moving along to the ‘B’ factor in the ABCDEs of melanoma, another thing to look at is the border of the mole you have. Should the edges that border seem blurred or irregular … this too may not be a good sign, and mean skin cancer.
C. Look at the Color
Next stop is ‘C’ in the ABCDEs of skin cancer, and this represents the color of your mole. Should the mole have a variety of colors, including shades of brown and black, you may have a malignant tumor, and therefore skin cancer.
D. The Diameter of the Mole
The ‘D’ in ABCDE stands for the mole’s diameter. Should it be over the six millimeters mark, this may be cause for concern.
The last factor in the ABCDEs of melanoma, is evolution. If your mole changes in color, size, or shape over time, this is not a good sign, and might mean that the mole is malignant, and a symptom of skin cancer.