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Skin Cancer

What Are The Symptoms Of Skin Cancer?

Last updated on:
17/04/2013

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

Skin cancer first appears as a growth, or abnormal accumulation of cells. It sometimes takes the form of a sore or pimple that does not heal. The sore may bleed or ooze fluid, crust or scab over, and then ooze or bleed again. Cancer can occur on almost area of the skin, but is most common on areas often exposed to the sun. Skin cancer usually is painless.

Symptoms Of Skin Cancer

The most common symptoms are:

1. A new growth on the skin.

2. A change in an existing skin growth.

3. A sore that does not heal.

Not all changes in the skin are symptoms of skin cancer. Most moles and other growths are harmless and do not need to be removed. Moles that are unattractive, or in areas where they are constantly irritated by clothing, can be removed by a doctor.

The average person has dozens of moles and other skin growths that are benign or noncancerous. They include:

  • Birthmarks, or "congenital nevi," are moles that are present at birth.
  • Acquired moles begin to develop early in adolescence, growing and darkening throughout the teenage years. Many adults have 40-60 acquired moles.
  • Liver spots, or "solar lentigines," are flat tan-to-brown spots that occur mainly on the face, neck, hands, and forearms. They have nothing to do with the   liver. Rather, they develop as a result of aging and sun exposure.
  • Seborrheic keratoses are raised, wart-like, tan-to-brown growths that occur as people age.
  • Acquired cherry angiomas are smooth, dome-shaped red spots that usually develop on the chest and back. Most are bright red, and appear as people age.
  • Skin tags are small, soft flaps of skin that grow on the neck, in the armpits, and groin area are caused by repeated friction.
  • Actinic keratoses are slightly scaly, reddish patches that form on people with sun-damaged skin. They are precancerousgrowths that may changes into a squamous cell carcinoma. That's why doctors recommend removal of actinic keratoses.

How Can You Tell If A Mole Is Cancerous?

Although most skin growths are not cancer, it's important to check with the doctor about new growths or changes in old growths. When growths become cancerous, they may change in size or color, or become sores that do not heal.

Doing a regular skin self-examination is a good way to monitor the skin for early symptoms of skin cancer. Skin self examination is especially important for people who have had skin cancer. It can detect new cancers, and recurrences of past cancer, at an early and most curable stage.

Q. How can I tell if a skin growth is dangerous? Is there any special appearance that I should watch for?

Examining Your Skin - What to look for:

A. Be alert for growths that enlarge and ooze fluid or blood, crust or clot over, and then ooze or bleed again. Seek medical attention if a sore does not heal by 2 weeks.

Be on the lookout for moles or skin spots that are:

  • Bigger from edge to edge than a pencil eraser
  • Have uneven or ragged edges
  • Show combinations of more than one color
  • Have a different appearance on one half than on the other

When doing a skin self-examination, take special care in looking for growths that may be melanoma. Check with the doctor immediately if any moles show the danger signs. They can be remembered by thinking of the ABCDs of malignant melanoma..

  1. Asymmetry - when one half of the growth has a different shape than the other.
  2. Border irregular - when the growth has scalloped or uneven edges
  3. Color varied - with the growth is more than one color. Melanomas may be black, shades of brown and tan, and even have specks of red, white, and blue.
  4. Diameter - a size, measured edge to edge, bigger than the diameter of a pencil eraser.

For further information about melanoma, go to Melanoma

Where Does Skin Cancer Usually Develop?

Basal cell carcinomas usually occur on parts of the body that are often exposed to the sun. These are the face, neck, V-shaped area of the chest, and upper back. They occur less often on the top sides of the arms and hands.

  • These tumors sometimes look like a sore or pimple that does not heal.
  • They may ooze yellowish fluid, crust over with a scab, and then break down and ooze again.
  • When the surrounding skin is stretched, a basal cell carcinoma has a pearly gray look, with tiny blood vessels often visible inside the tumor.

     

Squamous cell carcinomas also appear most often on the face and neck, V-shaped are of the chest, and upper back. They are more likely than basal cells carcinomas to form on the top of the arms and hands.

  • Squamous cell carcinomas look like an inflamed (pinkish or reddish), scaly growth that feels sore or tender.
  • Some may repeatedly break open, bleed, and crust - never fully healing.
  •  

Malignant melanomas usually form on the trunk (the area of the body between the neck and the hips) or legs. These areas don't get constant sun exposure. Rather, they are areas that get periodic intense exposure and sun burn.

  • Melanomas may form from an existing mole or freckle, or begin to grow from a normal-appearing area of the skin.
  • Moles and freckles are usually light to dark brown and have a clear-cut edge or border.
  • Melanomas usually are multi-colored. The may combine different shades of brown and black, sometimes with areas of red, white or blue.
  • They often have an irregular or uneven border.
  • They may sometimes bleed.

     

For more information, go to melanoma

 

 
 

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From Andrew Maynard - Chair of the University of Michigan Department of Environmental Health Sciences, with help from David Faulkner - 2013 Master of Public Health graduate.