How to Spot Skin Cancer

Coupled with a yearly skin examination by a doctor, self-examination of your skin once a month is the best way to detect the early warning signs of basal cell carcinoma , squamous cell carcinoma and malignant melanoma, the three main types of skin cancer. Look for a new growth or any skin change.

Basal Cell Carcinoma
 
What To Look For: Small bump, smooth or waxy, and whitish to pink in colour. May resemble a pimple, but fails to clear up after a few weeks. Could become an ulcer or sore as it grows.
Cause: Exposure to UV radiation from sun.
Where On The Body: Most often on face, ears, neck, back, arms or legs, especially in fair-skinned people.
Prevention: Avoid unprotected sun exposure. Wear hats, clothing, and sunscreen with an SPF factor of 15 or more.
Treatment: Surgical removal, with a greater than 95 percent cure rate.

Malignant Melanoma

What To Look For: A new mole or changes to an existing mole, such as becoming irregularly shaped, varied in colour, and different in appearance than your other moles.
Cause: Not completely known, but genetics and excessive exposure to UV radiation from sunlight play major roles.
Where On The Body: Most often on upper backs of men and women, or on the legs of women. However, may occur anywhere on the body, even in areas never exposed to the sun, such as the soles of the feet or underneath the bathing suit area.
Prevention: Avoid unprotected exposure to the sun by wearing hats, clothing, and sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher.
Treatment: Warning requires immediate surgical removal. May require chemotherapy if it has spread.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

What To Look For: Scaly, crusty or wart-like bump, usually between the size of a pea and a chestnut.
Cause: Exposure to UV radiation from sun.
Where On The Body: Rim of the ear, face, lips and mouth, neck, back of the hands, back, and legs.
Prevention: Avoid unprotected exposure to sun. Wear hats, clothing, and use sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater.
Treatment: 95 percent cure rate with surgical treatment.

Actinic Keratosis

What To Look For: Scaly spots, about the size of dime or nickel.
Cause: Exposure to UV radiation from sun.
Where On The Body: Chronically sun-exposed skin, i.e., the face, ears, back of hands, upper chest and back, particularly in fair-skinned individuals.
Prevention: Avoid unprotected exposure to the sun. Wear hats, clothing, and a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher.
Treatment: Caution Actinic keratoses are precancerous growths that can progress to skin cancer. Removed in a doctor's office by scraping or by freezing with liquid nitrogen. Or patient may apply a prescription cream containing 5-fluorouracil (Fluoroplex, Efudex) for about a month.

EXAMINATION

What you'll need: a bright light; a full-length mirror; a hand mirror; two chairs or stools; a blow-dryer.

Examine head and face, using one or both mirrors. Use blow-dryer to inspect scalp.


Check hands, including nails. In full-length mirror, examine elbows, arms, underarms.

Focus on neck, chest, torso. Women: Check under breasts.

With back to the mirror, use hand mirror to inspect back of neck, shoulders, upper arms, back, buttocks, legs.

Sitting down, check legs and feet, including soles, heels, and nails. Use hand mirror to examine genitals.

Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is especially hard to stop once it has spread (metastasized) to other parts of the body. But it can be readily treated in its earliest stages.