Monday, August 6, 2007

Skin Cancer: What to Look For

There are several forms of skin cancer: Basal Cell Carcinoma, Squamous Cell Carcinoma, and the worst form of skin cancer known as Malignant Melanoma. Let’s discuss what to look for, symptoms, and when you should contact your doctor.

Basal Cell Carcinoma
This is a common form of skin cancer usually caused by over-exposure to the sun. This type of skin cancer grows slowly, rarely spreads, and is seldom life-threatening. While it may vary in appearance, it is usually characterized by a small, flat module which gradually may turn into an open sore with raised edges. It appears frequently on the face, usually around the eyes, near the nose or on the nose, as well as on other sun-exposed areas including the back, chest, arms, and legs. For proper diagnosis and treatment of Basal Cell Carcinoma, see your doctor.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma
This is also a common form of skin cancer which is rarely life-threatening. It starts as a small, firm, painless lump or patch, and resembles a wart or an open sore. It is also associated with over-exposure to the sun and can occur anywhere on the body. It is most common on the back of the hands or on the lips. If you have a lump on your skin that does not heal within three weeks, check with your doctor.

Malignant Melanoma
This is the most deadly form of skin cancer. It is sometimes associated with exposure to the sun, but can occur anywhere on the body including parts of the body not exposed to the sun. It most often appears on the face, upper chest or legs, and usually grows from existing moles. Malignant moles may bleed and can resemble sores that do not heal. If you think you have a melanoma, contact your doctor immediately.

Identifying skin cancers can be difficult. However, there are ways in which you can determine if you have any of the above three skin cancers.

Cancerous moles are often asymmetrical, that is, one half of the mole looks different from the other half. The outline of a cancerous mole can be uneven or have poor defined edges and may change over time. Melanomas can be very dark in color and contain shades of tan, brown, white, red, or blue. Moles that grow larger than a half inch across may be a sign of malignant melanomas, although smaller moles can also indicate malignancy as well.

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