When it comes to just about anything negative – whether it be stressful social situations, grades, college decisions, or job application results, it’s easier to ignore the feedback and pretend it’s not there than to take the bull by the horns and look it in the eye. Out of sight out of mind as they say, but when it comes to illness that’s as far as it goes. Out of sight doesn’t mean out of body and as distressing as cancer is it’s far better to know it’s there or might be there than to pretend it’s not or can’t be. We’ll look at some details regarding the signs of skin cancer, symptoms and risk factors so you can keep a lookout for this most dangerous of diseases.
What is Cancer?
The answer to the question what is cancer can get quite complex but the basic response is that it’s the uncontrolled division of cells in a localized area of the body. This localized area grows with time and is called a tumor. If left untreated cells from that tumor can leave the local area and penetrate nearby ones that results in local metastasis, or localized spreading. Eventually they can enter the bloodstream or lymphatic system travel throughout the body and ‘start’ tumors elsewhere. This is an advanced stage of cancer that can be lethal and almost always requires surgery, chemo, radiation, or a combination of the three.
Types of Skin Cancer
The signs of skin cancer can have many diffrent forms and each form is named for the part of the skin in which it originates. There are three common forms which we will go through here.
Basal cell cancer originates in the lowest layer of the epidermis (the upper layer of the skin) and is also called a basal cell carcinoma. This is the least dangerous form of skin cancer as it is easy to detect, relatively slow moving and fairly easy to treat. It is also the most common.
Squamous cell cancer starts in the middle layer of the epidermis is less common than basal cell carcinoma and is a little bit more dangerous. The most uncommon and most dangerous form of skin cancer is melanoma or cancer of the melanocytes (cells that produce pigment). This is the most likely to metastasize and become fatal if left untreated.
Signs of Skin Cancer
Each type has its own signs of skin cancer and its characteristics. Basal cell carcinoma typically presents as a firm, raised, glossy red bump usually on skin frequently exposed to sunlight (it’s common on the head, shoulders, neck and arms on people who frequently wear t-shirts). If such bumps develop anywhere on your body it’s worth getting them checked out leaving them untreated can be dangerous and if you catch it early they can be totally removed.Squamous cell carcinoma looks like a collection of thick red scales and also usually presents on skin frequently exposed to the sun. It looks a little nastier and is more likely to ulcerate and bleed making it more likely that you’ll stop in for a check-up if you spot one.
Melanomas are the most dangerous forms of skin cancer and sometimes the hardest to spot. These usually manifest in moles which is why they might escape notice. Still they’re not impossible to see. Moles that are irregularly shaped, strangely colored, large, constantly changing and with irregular borders might indicate melanoma.
Prevention and Further Signs
You probably noticed a pattern above each of these cancers is most likely to be spotted on sun-exposed skin. This is because frequent exposure to sunlight is one of the greatest risk factors for skin cancer, so if any strange sores randomly pop up on skin that gets a lot of sun it’s worth checking out (it could be a basal or squamous cell carcinoma) and if a mole appears on tanned skin it might be worth asking the dermatologist to inspect it even if it looks perfectly symmetrical and normal.
One last thing you should do to make sure you’re keeping an eye peeled for melanomas is to inspect existing moles frequently. Sometimes they can become malignant and any change in the shape or color of one you already have can be taken as a signs of skin cancer (melanoma).