Spotting the Symptoms of Skin Cancer

Skin cancer can affect any area of your body exposed to sun, including the scalp. And believe it or not, it can even crop up in lesser-exposed areas like the palms of your hands, between your toes, even on your genitals. According to experts, cancerous skin lesions can appear suddenly or develop slowly, and the American Cancer Society advises that people see their doctors immediately if they see any of the following symptoms.

Basal Cell Carcinoma
These can be flat, firm, pale areas or small, raised, pink or red, translucent, waxy areas that may bleed following a minor injury. They may be characterized by one or more irregular blood vessels; a lower area in their center; and/or blue, brown, or black sections. Large basal cell carcinomas may have oozing or crusted areas.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma
These are growing lumps, often with a rough, scaly, or crusted surface. They may also look like flat reddish patches in the skin that grow slowly. Like basal cell carcinomas, this types of non-melanoma skin cancer may develop as a flat area showing only slight changes from normal skin.

Actinic Keratosis
Also known as solar keratosis, this is a precancerous skin condition caused by too much sun exposure. Actinic keratoses are small rough spots that may be pinkish-red or flesh-colored, usually on the face, ears, back of the hands, and arms of middle-aged or older people with fair skin. They also can develop on younger people or on other sun-exposed areas of the skin. Some can grow into squamous cell cancers, but others may stay the same or even shrink. Because they can turn cancerous, such areas should be checked regularly by a doctor.

The most serious form of skin cancer and the one responsible for the most deaths can develop on normal skin or in an existing mole. It often appears on the upper back or the face.

Learn Your ABCDs
According to the American Cancer Society, people should follow the ABCD rule when inspecting their skin for melanomas:

  • A Is for Asymmetry: One half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other half.
  • B Is for Border: The edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.
  • C Is for Color: The color is not the same all over and may include shades of brown or black, sometimes with patches of red, white, or blue.
  • D Is for Diameter: The spot is larger than six millimeters across (about one-quarter inch, the size of a pencil eraser) or is growing larger.

Other important signs of melanoma include:

  • Changes in size, shape, or color of a mole
  • Appearance of a new spot that may not fit the ABCD rule
  • A sore that does not heal
  • A new growth
  • spread of pigment from the border of a spot to the surrounding skin
  • Redness or a new swelling beyond the border
  • Change in sensation, such as itchiness, tenderness, or pain
  • Change in the surface of a mole, such as scaliness, oozing, bleeding, or the appearance of a bump or nodule