Skin cancer doesn’t mess around. According to the stats, one in five Americans will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they hit 70 years old—and millions of cases are found every year. Luckily, there are some ways you can spot it early—whether it’s non-melanoma (bad) or melanoma (very bad)—to prevent becoming one of the thousands of deaths that result from skin cancer. (For melanoma, that’s one death per hour.) Wear your sunscreen, stop tanning, and pay close attention to these 20 potentially dire skin cancer symptoms, all of which everyone should be well aware of. And for more symptoms to look out for, check out 20 Surprising Cancer Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore.
Unusual Skin Patch or Sore
If you noticed a skin growth or sore pop up that doesn’t seem to be going away, it could be non-melanoma skin cancer, says the Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA). Just keep an eye on it: if it’s changing size and color with time, it might be more than an everyday skin condition that just goes away on its own and should be checked out before it goes deeper into the skin. And for more things to keep an eye on, don’t miss the 20 Skin Symptoms That Indicate More Serious Health Issues.
Waxy Translucent Bump
A pale patch of skin or a waxy, translucent bump on your head or neck that has an indentation at the center or visible blood vessels could mean you might be dealing with basal cell carcinoma. Luckily, the CTCA says it’s the easiest form of skin cancer to treat and likely won’t spread—if you get the problem looked at early on. And for more info that’ll help you stay cancer-free, learn (and cut out!) the 20 Everyday Habits That Increase Your Risk of Cancer.
While healthy moles are usually brown, tan, or black, one that changes colors can be a sign of skin cancer. If you spot a mole that’s no longer the same color all over and has different shades of brown or black, or has pink, white, red, or blue patches, have your doctor check for melanoma, says the American Cancer Society (ACS).
Brown Spots with Dark Speckles
If you realize one of your moles has some darker speckles on it, you might have just discovered melanoma, says the Mayo Clinic. Even if it’s subtle, it’s better to be safe than sorry: have a doc look at it so you don’t have issues in the future. And for more info on this common disease, in all its various forms, learn the 15 Most Common Types of Cancer.
If you see a lesion pop up on your chest that resembles a brownish scar, it could be a sign that you have basal cell carcinoma, says the CTCA. As time goes on, it could bleed or become crusty; make sure you see your dermatologist before it gets the chance to develop.
Spots with Irregular Borders
Moles typically have the same border all around, but if you notice that one of yours has edges that are uneven, ragged, notched, or blurred, it’s time to head to the dermatologist. An irregular border is one of the most important warning signs to watch out for when it comes to melanoma, says the ACA.
If a rough, firm lump has developed on your skin, it could be squamous cell carcinoma. They typically pop up on areas of the skin that see the most sunlight—like the neck, ears, face, or on the back of the hand—but that doesn’t mean they can’t show up in other spots on your body, too. They’re less likely than basal cell carcinoma to spread beneath the skin, the CTCA says to get your skin checked out before it has the chance to grow.
Moles That Bleed
If one of your moles is bleeding or oozing out of nowhere, it could be a sign of skin cancer, says the Cleveland Clinic. Don’t worry if the blood comes from injuring your mole, though: That’s not uncommon and doesn’t mean you have melanoma. Just like regular skin, your mole can also bleed simply due to being bumped or scratched.
When squamous cell carcinoma doesn’t develop into a lump, it appears as more of a reddish patch. It might look like a skin rash at first, but the cancer won’t go away and will continue to slowly develop over time if you don’t see a dermatologist to have it taken care of, says the CTCA.
Moles That Change Size
While normal moles are generally smaller than 6 millimeters (about a quarter-inch), seeing something bigger than that is a key warning sign that you could have melanoma. If your spot is bigger than the size of a pencil eraser, check it out to make sure nothing funky is going on with your skin, says the ACA. But don’t rule out smaller spots, either: melanoma can be tinier than 6 millimeters, too.
Bluish-Red or Flesh-Colored Moles
While healthy, normal moles are usually brown, tan, or black, Merkel cell carcinoma—a rare type of skin cancer—shows up as a blush-red or flesh-colored mole or bump, says the Mayo Clinic. They’re totally painless and tend to appear on the face, head, or neck, but they grow quickly on older individuals and can spread to other parts of your body if you don’t get treatment in a timely manner.
Having a wart pop up can be super annoying, but the next time one does, be extra sure it’s not squamous cell carcinoma in disguise. The cancer can cause raised growths that resemble warts, but unlike regular warts, they won’t heal and sometimes crust and bleed, says SKCIN.
Moles That Don’t Match
When you have a mole, the entire mark should look the same. If one half doesn’t match the other—whether that’s the color or border—you should get it looked at to ensure it’s not melanoma, says the ACA.
A scaly patch on your skin might seem pretty harmless, but if it’s red in color, has uneven borders, often bleeds, and won’t seem to heal, it could be a sign of squamous cell carcinoma that your dermatologist should take a look at, says SKCIN.
Dark Stipe Under Nail
Skin cancer doesn’t just show up in obvious places—it can also be more hidden. Although rare, acral-lentiginous melanoma can show up as a narrow, dark streak under your nail, whether that’s your fingers or toes. According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s something that happens more commonly in African Americans or anyone with darker skin, but it’s something for everyone to be aware of.
Skin Sore That Heals and Returns
If a worrisome skin sore seems to always go through the cycle of healing then returning, it could be a sign of skin cancer, says the American Academy of Dermatology. There’s a chance it’s something totally normal that just needs a little help in fully being treated, or it could be a symptom of something worse. Don’t risk it.
When you touch your moles, they typically don’t feel any different than touching any other part of your skin. But if a mole suddenly becomes tender or painful, that’s your first sign to schedule an appointment with your dermatologist: according to the National Cancer Institute, it could mean you have melanoma.
Moles That Itch
If a mole starts to become itchy, it could be a case of skin cancer. In a study published in JAMA Dermatology involving 268 patients with 339 confirmed cases of skin cancer, nearly 37 percent of the lesions patients had were itchy—and those cases mostly involved basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.
No one likes when pimples pop up, no matter if they’re on your face or body. But if a pink or red zit-like growth doesn’t seem to be going away, it could be a skin of skin cancer—particularly basal cell carcinoma—that should be tested by your dermatologist, says the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
If you notice a mole on your skin that you don’t remember being there before, it’s best to get it checked out by a doctor—even if it doesn’t look weird or out of the ordinary. According to the ACA, it could be a sneaky sign of melanoma that’s best to rule out before it causes any problems. And if you’re curious about the likelihood of these conditions, Learn How Likely You Are to Get Cancer in Your Lifetime.
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