Skin cancer will afflict roughly one in f0ur Americans, so for millions of us, it's not a matter of if we will get skin cancer but when we will get it. (And in many cases, when we will get skin cancer again. And again.) The most common two types of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma (or BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) show up in four million and one million cases annually, respectively, and when caught early these two cancers, which constitute the most common cancer in the United States overall, are easy to treat and cure.
Melanoma, the far more aggressive and serious form of skin cancer, sickens about 80,000 people each year. Caught early and treated aggressively, the five-year survival rate of melanoma is very high, as high as 99% when the cancer is caught while still localized and before it has spread.
While BCC is rarely deadly and SCC only fatal when treatment is long delayed, even non-melanoma skin cancer needs to be taken seriously and treated fast so you have minimal lasting effects to deal with.
But you have to spot your skin cancer before you start can start treatment, and as skin cancer presents itself in so many ways, knowing all the symptoms can be hard.
Melanoma usually shows up in the form of a new and odd-looking, oddly-behaving mole. In 20% of cases, it will take over an extant mole, but the appearance of a new mole (or a dark brown shape that imitates a mole, any any rate) is a serious concern. To monitor your potential melanoma, use the ABCDE method:
A - Asymmetry - Healthy moles tend to be round or ovular; cancerous moles may be shaped more like an island, with undulating borders and uneven parts.
B - Borders - Normal moles have clearly defined borders; they are distinct and stop. Cancerous moles often have borders that fade into the skin tissue around them.
C - Color - A normal mole is a universal color, whereas melanoma moles are usually multi-colored or have splotches or dots.
D - Diameter - Any mole that is much more than .25 inches, or the width of a pencil eraser, is cause for concern.
E - Evolution - A mole that visibly changes from week to week is very likely skin cancer; healthy moles are stable and hardly change for years.
Melanoma usually presents as a mole, but it can show up in the form of painful lesions with unexplained origin as well. Any wound that appears on its own and does not heal properly is highly suspect.
Non-melanoma skin cancers BCC and SCC show up in one of four common ways, which include:
Flaky Patches - Often initially confused for age spots, a waxen and yellowish or gray patch of skin that sloughs off bits at times may well be skin cancer.
Unusual Sores - Open sores not caused by a burn or abrasion and that don't heal properly may well be non-melanoma skin cancer
Raised Shiny Bumps - A bump that protrudes off of or pushes up just under the skin and that has a shiny exterior and may have a red or pink hue may well be cancer.
Unexplained Lesions - A wound that regularly scabs over then opens up again and won't heal is a very common sign of skin cancer.
Also watch out for firm red nodules, which can sometimes indicate squamous cell cancer and for shiny nodules in hair follicles, which may indicate the uncommon form of non-melanoma skin cancer called Merkel cell carcinoma.
Because not all skin cancers present themselves with a symptom you might expect, sometimes looking at images of skin cancer can be a bad idea. If you see four skin cancer images online and none of them look like the odd spot on your skin, you may think you are in the clear, when in fact a fifth skin cancer photo just down the page might have been an exact match to your skin issue.
Checking skin cancer pictures is a fine start to a monitoring your health as long as it is never the end of the process.
If you have any worries at all that you might have skin cancer, you need to go to a dermatologist near you right away and get a check up. Caution is always better than assuming you're fine, and time is your best ally in fighting skin cancer.