Recognizing Skin Cancer

by Katelyn Schwanke
(last updated September 5, 2008)

In 2007 there were over a million Americans diagnosed with skin cancer. Skin cancer is mutated cellular growth on the very outside layer of your skin. Because skin cancer is on the outside layer of your skin, it can be easily detected when you know what to look for. Self examinations should be supplemental to physician or dermatologist visits, but even with an untrained eye you can recognize the signs and symptoms of skin cancer.

After discussing the symptoms of the three major types of skin cancer, you will learn the basic ABC's of identification. The three main skin cancers include:

  • Basal cell carcinoma
  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Basic melanoma
  • Basal cell carcinoma is often mistaken for a sore that is extremely slow to heal. Basal cell carcinoma often bleeds at its center and can have visible blood vessels. Squamous cell carcinoma can be identified by how thick and red it is; it may develop into a dense or thick mass. Basic melanoma stems from existing moles and are usually dark brown or black.
  • Signs of all types of skin cancer are basically the same. By following the ABCs of cancer detection (defined shortly) you will be alerted to when a doctor's visit should be made. Even if you are unable to determine what type of skin cancer you may have, you will at least be able to identify the possibility of existing skin cancer.
  • The ABCs of cancer detection are as follows:
    • Asymmetry. If you notice that one side of a birth mark or mole is larger than the other this could indicate cancer.
    • Border. If you notice that the perimeter or edges of a birth mark or mole are blurred or ragged this could indicate cancer.
    • Color. If you notice inconsistency in coloring (differing shades or a mix of colors) this could indicate cancer.
    • Diameter. If you notice a change in size, growth in diameter, this could indicate cancer.
    • Evolution. If you notice a basic change in appearance this could indicate cancer.
  • Keeping an eye out for any signs of symptoms of cancer can help you help your doctor detect cancer early so that bigger problems can be avoided. Just remember, always wear sunscreen and check for the ABCs of skin cancer!
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