Signs and Diagnosis

Many skin growths may resemble skin cancer, but most are not cancer. Any suspicious-looking growth should be discussed and examined with a qualified professional.

Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are most commonly on sun exposed areas. Basal cell carcinoma is classically a small pearly or pink skin-colored bump. It may also appear as a scar-like growth or scaly area. Untreated, the cancer often will bleed, crust over, heal, and repeat the cycle. Squamous cell carcinoma may appear as a persistent rough scaly area or a hard red bump. BCC and SCC can be tender to the touch but are typically not painful.

Melanoma can appear anywhere on the body. In men, it is most common on the chest, back and stomach. In women, it is most common on the lower legs. Classically, melanoma has mixed shades of tan, brown, and black with asymmetry and irregular borders. It can develop in a mole or appear as a new mole. Less commonly it can also be red or white.

Seek professional evaluation if:

– A new growth on the skin that does not disappear in 1 to 2 months
– Any lesion that grows or has different colors
– A mole or birthmark that changes in color
– Any lesion that shows changes on the surface such as scaling, bleeding or oozing
– A sore or wound that bleeds or heals and later reopens
– Any lesion that has a change in sensation including itching, tenderness, pain
– A dark spot that appears next to or within a mole
– Pigment that spreads from an existing mole

Diagnosis

If you notice a suspicious change on your skin, it’s important to see a qualified professional for a skin cancer screening. Examining your skin on a monthly basis is the best way to catch skin cancer early. Get to know your skin and look for changes to the pattern of your moles, scars, spots, freckles, and other marks. Early diagnosis and treatment increase your chances of curing the cancer.

The diagnosis of skin cancer is usually done through a skin biopsy. The dermatologist will numb the area with local anesthesia, then remove all or a portion of the skin lesion. The tissue is then sent to a lab to be examined under a microscope by a dermatopathologist.

Sun exposure, especially sunburn, is the most important preventable cause of melanoma. Individuals with light skin and light eyes have the most risk. Heredity also plays a part. A person with a relative or close family member that has had melanoma has an increased chance of developing melanoma. Atypical moles (dysplastic nevi), which may run in families, and having a large number of moles, can serve as markers for people at increased risk for developing melanoma.