Warning Signs & Symptoms of Skin Cancer

Published on Jul 07, 2022 | 11:30 AM

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Melanoma, a type of skin cancer, often presents as a new mole or a change in the appearance of an existing mole. Warning signs include asymmetry, irregular borders, uneven color distribution, a diameter larger than a pencil eraser, and evolving characteristics, such as changes in size, shape, or color. Early detection through regular skin checks and consultation with a healthcare professional is crucial for effective treatment and improved outcomes.

What Causes Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer is caused by UV radiation getting into skin cells and causing genetic mutations. Most of the time, our skin cells fix mutations and damage from radiation exposure, but the more it happens over time, the higher the chances of skin cancer developing. With summer approaching, it’s important to remember UV safety as well as note the main causes of skin cancer stem from sun exposure and sunburns. While there is no true guide to how often you should check for skin cancer, knowing the signs to look out for and performing monthly self checks can help you know when to speak to a dermatologist.

What are the Symptoms of Skin Cancer?

The most common types of skin cancer are basal cell, squamous cell, and melanoma. 

Some symptoms to look for with basal and squamous cell cancer are:

  • Red scaly spots that don’t go away
  • A wound that doesn’t heal
  • A new bump or growth that gets larger
  • A new spot that gets painful or bleeds

For melanoma signs, you can follow the ABCDE rule:

  • A-Asymmetry (a spot with a weird shape)
  • B-Borders (irregular/blurry borders or dark spots)
  • C-Color (multiple colors, changing colors, or dark black color)
  • D-Diameter (A mole or spot bigger than 6 mm and /or growing (the size of a pencil eraser))
  • E-Evolution (A spot that’s changing over time)

Skin cancer tends to show up in higher sun exposure areas, including your face, arms, neck, chest, back, and scalp. Sometimes skin cancer can be hereditary, and if it runs in your family, you should opt to get regularly checked by a dermatologist, but skin cancer is generally from lots of exposure to the sun.

Who is at Risk for Skin Cancer?

Higher risks of skin cancer include those who:

  • Have fair skin or skin that burns easily
  • Have severe sunburns or multiple sunburns
  • Have over 50 moles or a history of abnormal moles
  • Have red hair 
  • Have blue eyes
  • Have a low immune system
  • Use tanning beds frequently or use tanning beds with low safety practices

If diagnosed, the most common way for treatment is for a doctor to cut or scrap off the area of the skin with cancer. When treated by scraping there is an 85 percent success rate and 90 percent when the cancer is cut out.

How Can I Prevent Skin Cancer?

Some general tips to help prevent skin cancer are:

  • Wear sunscreen and stay in the shade when able
  • Wear hats and sunglasses to avoid damage to the scalp and eye pigments
  • Stay out of the sun during its peak hours of the day (Usually 10 AM - 3 PM)
  • Avoid tanning beds

Some other ways to help prevent skin cancer is to use sunscreen daily on exposed areas (including the backs of your hands). Ideally you should apply sunscreen 10-15 minutes before going outside and reapply every two hours or sooner if you are sweating a lot or feel like you are burning. *When going to the beach you should apply a full ounce of sunscreen (the size of a shot glass). 

What sunscreen should I use?

Dermatologists recommend broad spectrum sunscreen because it protects from both UVA and UVB. Other factors to look for in a good sunscreen is SPF 30+ and water resistant. Note that makeup-based SPF is fine for errands but should not be your only source of protection for outdoor use.

Overall, you should self-check your skin for anything that might look abnormal or develop on your skin. You can also get a dermatologist to scan your skin to see if anything indicates skin cancer is present. The best practice for your skin is to reduce your exposure to UV radiation by limiting your time outside, staying inside or using sunscreen when outdoors. Practice these habits daily, even when you do not think it’s “that hot outside” or you won’t “be outside too long.” 

For an easy way to get checked by a dermatologist, try Call-On-Doc for instant online dermatology care. Call-On-Doc requires no appointments or expensive dermatology visits, with most consultations at $39.99. With Call-On-Doc, you can get treated in three easy steps: select your condition, snap a picture of the area, and a dermatologist will review your symptoms. Any prescription will be sent to your local pharmacy in 1-2 hours, and every visit includes a free follow-up consultation.

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Wayne C. Hahne,

English graduate and Call-On-Doc’s medical resource guide, Wayne C. Hahne is an experienced and passionate medical education content expert. Through diligent research, provider interviews and utilizing the industry's leading resources for wellness information, it is Mr. Hahne’s personal mission to educate the general public on medical conditions with in-depth and easy-to-understand written guides.

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