While not all skin abnormalities are cancerous or even dangerous, it certainly is prudent to be vigilant with regards to out of the ordinary things on your skin. As recommended by most skin experts, always use UV protection when out in the sun for longer periods of time. Apart from that, a healthy diet ensures healthy skin. The causes of skin cancer and other skin diseases however is also dependent on other factors outside your control such as pollution, genetics, etc. Let’s take a look at the various signs and predictors of skin cancer that you should be on the lookout for.
Recently formed Moles
If you find a new mole that wasn’t there before, do not get alarmed. However, if the mole is over 6mm in diameter this is a strong indication for possible melanoma. If you find one, be sure to examine yourself as best you can to see if there are any other new moles to be on the safe. Melanoma is one of the more serious forms of skin cancer but still has a very high success rate under treatment. Hence it is important to contact your doctor/dermatologist at the earliest.
Additionally take photographs of the mole itself, especially if you find that it’s changing in size. Moles that change in size have a higher potential to be cancerous. This would be valuable to your doctor for tracking the progress of the abnormality.
While certain other types of cancer are more common in a particular demographic, experts say melanoma affects all age groups. You should check with your physician whether you have a higher risk for skin cancer (or other types of cancer for that matter).
It may be hard to discover new moles and spots by yourself depending on your eyesight, and on your back. Asking a friend or loved one for help with this would be best.
Moles with uneven borders and colours
Apart from being larger than average and evolving in size, there are a few other key characteristics to pay attention to. Generally non-cancerous moles and spots tend to be symmetrical and smooth (but not always!). If your newly discovered spot has jagged or uneven borders this should also be assessed by a doctor.
Another trait to look out for is the colour of the mole, most harmless moles sit somewhere between brown and tan. If you see black, white or other colours like blue or red this is an acute reason to check with a dermatologist. Another rule of thumb is that if a mole is not coloured uniformly this is another sign to be wary of.
Depending on your skin tone, these traits may be hard to pick up from a small tiny mole, also if you have a lot of sun-tan you might think changing mole colours are natural however this is a strong indication for cancer.
Persistent Bumps and Warts
Warts that look like a small clear skin covered bubble and that are larger in size than 6mm are another potential sign of a different type of cancer. This is substantially more serious if the wart or bump persists for 6 weeks or even longer. These types of bumps usually present on the face and neck areas but they’re not exclusive to these zones. Also bumps and warts that aren’t healing is another issue to keep a track of. These kinds of growth may signal a type of cancer called squamous cell carcinoma which is primarily triggered by regular sun damage, another reason to always use UV protection for prolonged sun exposure. On the flip side, while uncommon it may also be a rare type of basal cell cancer, either way simply being alert to new bumps and warts and having them checked is the best one can do.
This type of skin abnormality might be harder to spot if you’re an active person as well as separating the difference between abnormal growths and normal pimples, acne, blisters, dirty skin etc. However simply keep track of the growth, whether it’s healing and the size change.
Scaly dry patches
While dry skin in and of itself is nothing to worry about (besides using an appropriate moisturizing regime!) continual dry patches might be a manifestation of the previously mentioned basal cell cancer. Once again the distinguishing factor here would be if the scaly patch is larger than 6mm and persists for over 6 weeks. Unlike a rash or fungal infection which would affect larger surface areas and generally this carcinoma would have just a single lesion.
This type of abnormality is harder to differentiate from normal-dry skin, rashes and other skin conditions, however, if you find that it hasn’t gone away for a few weeks be sure to visit your doctor or dermatologist and have it examined.
Conclusion: Should you be worried?
All moles are not cancer, but also all skin cancers are not easily discernible through self-examination, do not conclude that self-examination is a fool-proof of early detection.
In most cases, carcinoma of all types are curable with the right treatments, and early warning. Therefore the best route to safety is to simply be aware of how your skin behaves, how often you get spots, freckles etc and not panic with every new mole. It may be harmless but if you notice any of the above signs, then checking with your dermatologist is highly recommended.