The ABCs (and Ds and Es) of Skin Cancer

If you’re like most people, you have some freckles, sun spots, dark patches, and even a few moles here and there on your skin. The vast majority of these are harmless and require no medical attention. But some contain sinister cells that may be cancerous.

Led by Dr. Robert Skaggs, our team of experts here at Kentucky Skin Cancer Center helps our patients throughout Bowling Green and Franklin, Kentucky, understand what’s normal and what constitutes a concerning and possibly cancerous skin condition. Although the trained eye of an experienced dermatologist along with lab tests are the only definitive way to diagnose skin cancer, identification often starts at home.

Diligent self-care and regular checkups can prevent most types of skin cancers and allow early detection and treatment if they do appear. Here’s what you need to know.

A word about skin cancer

Just like cancer anywhere else in your body, skin cancer is simply an abnormal growth of cells. It usually develops on the areas of your skin that are most frequently exposed to the sun, because the UV rays can mutate the DNA in your cells. Although sun and other sources of UV rays (think tanning beds) are the most common culprit in the formation of cancerous cell growths, other factors may also increase your risk of skin cancer, including:

  • Radiation exposure
  • Cancer in your family
  • Previous cancer diagnosis
  • Weakened immune system
  • Exposure to certain chemicals
  • Having fair skin
  • Having experienced severe sunburns
  • Having 100 moles or more

If any of these apply to you, it’s important to keep a close eye on your skin, so you can detect changes that may indicate precancer or cancer.

Three types of skin cancer

Skin cancer can show up anywhere on anyone, but the most common locations are the lips, face, ears, neck, scalp, chest, hands, and arms. Skin cancer comes in many forms, but most cases are one of the following three types:

Basal cell carcinoma

Typically appearing on the face and neck, basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer. Look for a waxy bump or flat, flesh-colored lesion that may look like a scar. Often, basal cell carcinomas bleed a little, scab over, heal, and then return again later.

Squamous cell carcinoma

Another type of skin cancer that shows up where the sun shines most, squamous cell carcinoma often appears as a red, firm nodule, although in some cases it may look like a flat, scaly lesion with a crusty surface. 

Melanoma

By far the most dangerous of the three main types of skin cancer, melanoma can appear anywhere, even where the sun doesn’t shine. It often appears in, on, or around a mole, but not exclusively. Look for dark lesions on your skin that may or may not contain dark or black speckles. 

Melanoma lesions often itch or burn, and they can appear even on your palms, the soles of your feet, and inside your mouth.

Use the alphabet to spot cancerous moles

One of the key characteristics of skin cancer is change, which is why it’s important to watch suspicious spots closely. A good way to evaluate spots, lesions, and moles is to use the alphabet — at least A-E.

  • Asymmetrical shapes where one half looks different from the other
  • Borders of moles and lesions that look scalloped or jagged
  • Color that changes or appears uneven or mottled
  • Diameter that grows or is larger than a pea
  • Evolving characteristics over a span of weeks or months

If you notice any of these characteristics in your skin spots or moles, make an appointment with our team for a professional evaluation.

The lifesaving benefit of skin cancer screening

The prospect of skin cancer can be scary, but it’s heartening to know that 99% of the cases we discover and treat early result in happy, healthy cancer survivors. To that end, we encourage all our patients to get regular skin cancer screenings, especially those who are in high-risk categories. 

Dr. Skaggs checks your entire body methodically and thoroughly for any signs of skin cancer, and he makes notes of any moles or spots. Your first examination establishes a baseline against which we can measure future growth and changes. 

If Dr. Skaggs finds a cancerous lesion or mole, you’re in the best of hands. He is an expert in the field of skin cancer removal and specializes in Mohs micrographic surgery, which carefully removes cancerous tissue layer by layer until it’s completely gone. This technique is the least invasion and most effective method, but it takes precise skill and knowledge. Dr. Skaggs underwent extensive fellowship training to master Mohs surgery, so he can offer it to our patients. 

If you notice any suspicious areas on your skin, don’t wait, contact us by phone or book an appointment with Dr. Skaggs today. 

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