How to spot skin cancer

Beauty marks can certainly be beautiful. "But sometimes a mole can convert to something serious like melanoma," says Rex Amonette, MD, vice president of the Skin Cancer Foundation. "Regular skin checks by a doctor are key to catching suspicious moles early." The chart below will help you identify an unhealthy mark.

Getting a mole removed
No single remedy can be used for every kind of mole, and there's no best way to treat all skin cancers and precancers. The method you and your doc choose depends on the type, location, and size of your mole.

A mole on your face, for instance, can be removed by surgical excision (it's cut off, and the skin is sewn back together) or with cryosurgery (liquid nitrogen freezes the growth off); these typically have less risk of scarring. Certain lesions may require curettage-electrodessication, which combines two techniques: curettage, where a ring-shaped instrument is used to scrape the cancerous tissue off the skin, and electrosurgery, where an electric needle is used to burn the area and ensure that the diseased tissue has been destroyed. Other options include topical chemotherapy and radiation or laser therapy. Almost all treatments can be performed in a physician's office under a local anesthetic.

A harmless mole
Looks like: A symmetrical mark uniform in color with smooth borders; it's usually smaller than a quarter-inch.

Need to know: They crop up in early childhood. Study your spots once a month when you do a self-exam. Talk to your doctor if any change shape, color, or elevation, or bleed, itch, or crust--possible signs of skin cancer.

harmless mole

Melanoma
Looks like: An asymmetrical mole with uneven borders that tend to be scalloped; it's larger than a pencil eraser and may contain two or more shades of black, brown, red, white, or blue. It can be a new mole or one you've had.

Need to know: Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer since it can spread to other parts of the body. Caught early, it's curable.

Melanoma

Actinic keratosis
Looks like: Small crusty or scaly bumps or patches that can be tan, pink, red, or flesh-colored. They have a rough texture and may itch or feel tender to the touch.

Need to know: They are pre-cancerous growths that usually develop on your face, lips, ears, scalp, neck, forearms, and backs of your hands. They don't always turn into cancer but should he removed when detected.

Actinic keratosis

Basal cell carcinoma
Looks like: A reddish patch, pearly pink, red, or white bump, or sore that bleeds, oozes, or stays open for several weeks or heals and then comes back again.

Need to know: Unlike melanoma, basal cell carcinoma doesn't crop up in existing moles. Instead, it forms from skin damaged by sunburns and UV rays. If caught, it's easy to treat and isn't life threatening.

Basal cell carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma
Looks like: A thick, rough, wartlike growth, a scaly red patch with irregular borders, or an open sore that crusts or bleeds.

Need to know: They don't crop up in existing moles and are most common on the face, lower lip, neck, arms, scalp, backs of the hands, and ears in people with fair complexions. Typically squamous cell carcinoma can be cured if caught early.

Squamous cell carcinoma

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By Michele Bender

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