Skin Cancer -
What To Look For

When you hear about skin cancer, do you worry about what to look for? What are the signs?

There are several forms of skin cancer, each named after the type of skin cell it comes from.
The most common are Basal Cell Carcinoma and Squamous Cell Carcinoma. The worst form of skin cancer is known as Malignant Melanoma.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

This is the most common form of skin cancer usually caused by over-exposure to the sun, and affects the deepest layer of the skin. This type of skin cancer grows slowly, rarely spreads, and is seldom life-threatening. It appears frequently on the face, usually around the eyes, near the nose or on the nose, as well as on other sun-exposed areas including the back, chest, arms, and legs.

Five of the most common characteristics of this form of skin cancer are:
•    An open sore that doesn’t heal.
•    A reddish patch of skin that sometimes feels crusty, itchy or sore.
•    A shiny bump that can be easily mistaken for a mole, but is pearly or translucent.
•    A pink growth with elevated edges and an indented centre. Tiny blood vessels may appear on the surface.
•    A scar like patch which often has poorly defined edges, is yellow or white in colour, can be waxy in appearance, and shiny and smooth to the touch.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

This is also a common form of skin cancer which is rarely life-threatening. It arises from the cells found at the uppermost layer of skin. It is also associated with over-exposure to the sun and can occur anywhere on the body, but has also been linked to places in the skin that have suffered previous injury, such as scars and burns. People who have a weakened immune system due to medical treatment or disease seem more prone to this form as well. Common places vulnerable to this form of skin cancer are the ears and the lower lip, but also are frequently seen on hands, face and bald scalps.

The warning signs of squamous cell skin cancer are most commonly a rough, thick patch of skin similar to eczema or psoriasis. It can look like a wart, a sore, an elevated growth, or a scaly red patch – occasionally prone to bleeding. It can spread and grow.

Malignant Melanoma

This is the most serious but least common form of skin cancer. Everyone is at some risk for this form of cancer, but the risk increases with sun exposure, skin type, the number of moles on your body and genetics. In fact, genetics plays such a key role in this form, it is important to be aware of any family history of melanoma.

This form of cancer usually grows from existing moles. Cancerous moles are often asymmetrical, that is, one half of the mole looks different from the other half.  The outline of a cancerous mole can be uneven or have poor defined edges and may change over time. Melanomas can be very dark in color and contain shades of tan, brown, white, red, or blue. Moles that grow larger than a half inch across may be a sign of malignant melanomas, although smaller moles can also indicate malignancy as well.

When to Contact the Doctor

A great online resource to use for self examination is found at The Skin Cancer Foundation has put together pictures and examples of each type of cancer and gives more details in what to watch for.

It is important to contact your doctor right away if you find any changes in your moles, develop any new growths or have a sore that just won’t heal. Early treatment for skin cancer is much more effective than later treatment. While there is no need to panic, it is essential to know what to look for in regards to skin cancer and what to look for, in order to catch it early.
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