Most people know about skin cancer and have been warned to look out for “funny-looking moles.” However, the truth is that skin cancer doesn’t always look the same, and there are three variations that can appear very differently on your skin.
In general, skin cancer is a the result of cells in the skin growing uncontrollably and forming cancerous tumors. In most cases, these changes are triggered by ultraviolet light exposure from the sun or from tanning beds. To say that the condition is common is an understatement. Every day, 9,500 Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer.
There are three different types to be aware of: basal cell, squamous cell, and melanoma.
“Basal cell typically shows up as a pimple that scabs, bleeds and doesn’t go away,” dermatologist Dr. Samer Jaber told Yahoo Lifestyle. It is the most common form of skin cancer, accounting for 8 out of every 10 cases.
Squamous cell, which accounts for about 2 out of 10 skin cancers, can appear as rapidly growing painful sores, or itchy flat scabs that won’t heal. Both basal and squamous tend to be located on the head and neck and rarely (but sometimes do) spread to other parts of the body.
Then there is melanoma, the most serious skin cancer. This forms from melanocyte cells and can spread quickly to other parts of the body. In many cases it will appear as a mole that is asymmetrical, has jagged borders, has changed, is uneven in color, or appears to be brand new. While there are effective treatments for melanoma, it can be much harder to treat if caught in the later stages.
The likelihood of getting skin cancer is high. It is the most common form of cancer in the United States, and one in five Americans will develop it in their lifetime. Some contributing factors include having skin that burns easily, having blond or red hair, tanning bed use, diseases that suppress the immune system, and having relatives who developed skin cancer.
A history of excessive sun exposure can also be problematic. “Five sunburns in your life increases your risk of basal cell and squamous cell by 70% and melanoma by 80%,” said Dr. Jaber.
Preventing skin cancer comes down to sun safety, which many of us are familiar with, but which bears repeating. If you’re going to be outdoors, be sure to sit in the shade, wear a hat, and put on sunglasses. It’s also crucial to use a sunblock with at least SPF 30, and reapply it every two hours.
Ultimately, it’s important to be your own advocate. Skin cancer can appear in many different forms, so if something looks or feels weird, it’s time to visit a dermatologist.
“It’s important to do a monthly skin self-exam, get in front of a mirror, and get to know your body,” said Dr. Jaber. “If something is different or changing, you can have it assessed.”
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