Recognizing the Signs of Non-Melanomic Skin Cancer
When it comes to the national conversation about skin cancer, melanoma is the talk of the town. But it's actually far from being the most common skin cancer.
(Melanoma is still totally deadly though. Learn your ABCDEs and report any suspicious moles to your doctor.)
The two most common types of skin cancer are actually called Basal Cell Carcinoma and Squamous Cell Carcinoma. And these and other nonmelanomic skin cancers kill more than 5,000 people every month.
But they’re immensely treatable… if spotted early and brought to the attention of a doctor.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal cells are one of the three main cell types that make up the top layer of your skin.
When the DNA of these basal cells are damaged, such as by UV light radiation, it can trigger the uncontrolled growth that we call Basal Cell Carcinoma, or BCC.
This is the most common form of skin cancer, with 3.6 million cases diagnosed each year in the US alone.
Though BCC rarely metastasizes throughout the body like other cancers, if left untreated it can become locally invasive, expanding in size and delving deeper through skin and into bone and tissue.
But before that happens, there will be warning signs to look out for. So if you notice any of the following, contact your healthcare provider.
The ABCDEs of Melanoma
Recognize the warning signs of melanoma:
Asymmetry: Common moles are symmetrical, melanoma often is not.
Border: Melanoma will often have uneven borders and rough edges.
Color: Look out for moles with multiple colors, particularly shades of brown, black and tan.
Diameter: Any mole the size of a pencil eraser or bigger is suspect.
Evolving: Benign moles are pretty unchanging. Any change in size, shape or color should be investigated.
An open sore that does not heal. It may bleed or ooze—or it may not. It may seem to disappear, only to reappear shortly after.
A reddish patch or irritated area. It won’t necessarily be itching or hurting, but it will be new and it will persist.
A shiny bump or nodule. For people of color, it may be tan, black or brown, and can be mistaken for a mole. On fair skin, it is usually pearly, pink, red or white.
A small pink growth. It will have a slightly raised, rounded edge and crust in the middle.
A scar-like area. Typically flat, yellow or waxy in color, it will make the skin appear shiny and taut.
Fortunately, with early detection, nearly all BCCs can be removed simply, safely and successfully.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
The second most common type of skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma, or SCC, also occurs when UV light radiation damages one of the three primary cell types in the top layer of your skin, causing abnormal growth.
Though less common than basal cell carcinoma, SCC kills more than 15,000 Americans each year, with an average of 205 cases diagnosed in the US every year.
And it’s becoming more common, with a 200% increase in recorded cases over the last three decades.
SCC appears differently on everybody, but there are some common symptoms to look out for.
A persistent scaly red patch. It will have irregular borders and sometimes crust or bleed.
An elevated growth with a central depression. It will occasionally bleed and may rapidly increase in size.
An open sore that bleeds or crusts and persists for weeks.
A wart-like growth that crusts and occasionally bleeds.
If ignored, SCC lesions can quickly grow and become disfiguring. And if further left untreated, SCCs can burrow deeper into the body, spreading and becoming deadly.
But the majority can be quickly and successfully treated, if found early.
Stay On Top Of Your Spots
There are many common risk factors for developing skin cancer, such as having fair skin or having prolonged exposure to UV radiation from the sun or tanning beds. On top of that, being over 50 increases your risk, as does being male.
But when caught early, skin cancer is very treatable. So it's important to stay on top of your spots and keep an eye out for the suspicious ones.
Here are some basic rules to help stay safe:
Examine your entire body once a month. Skin cancer can develop even in places that do not have prolonged exposure to the sun. For people of color, it can be particularly important to check under fingernails and toenails, as well as palms and soles of the feet.
See your dermatologist yearly. Even if you don’t think you’ve found anything suspicious, it’s a good idea to get a professional skin exam every year.
When in doubt, check it out. If you think you’ve found a suspicious spot, trust your gut and get a professional opinion.
And last but not least…
Protect. Your. Skin. The Florida sun is brutal and you should be practicing sun safety every day. Slather on the sunscreen, wear a hat, hang in the shade and avoid tanning beds like the plague. (Too soon?)
For more information on how to spot skin cancer and how to treat it most effectively, visit our Cancer Information Office at the Sarasota Memorial Hospital - Sarasota campus or call our Brian D. Jellison Cancer Institute at 941-917-1981 to learn about upcoming cancer screenings, education events, the latest cancer care research and other services and resources.
Written by Sarasota Memorial copywriter Philip Lederer, MA, who crafts a variety of external communications for the healthcare system. SMH's in-house wordsmith, Lederer earned his Master's degree in Public Administration and Political Philosophy from Morehead State University, Ky, but lost his life savings investing in a Bon Jovi-themed gymnasium.