Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms of Skin Cancer

April 16th, 2014 by Dr. Keith Nemec

Skin CancerNow that spring is here, we are all looking forward to getting back out in the new sunshine. But the sun, in all it’s glory, can pose health risks for some people. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer affecting people in the United States, with more than one million Americans being diagnosed with some form of the disease each year. Fortunately, when caught early, most skin cancers can be effectively treated, and patients can experience a full remission. However, the key to treating any cancer is in early detection. So, as we move into the spring and summer months it seems an appropriate time to talk about the warning signs of skin cancer and the attendant early symptoms. It is often said that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If that is true, than early detection of skin cancer must be worth at least a good ¾ of a pound.

Skin Cancer and Self Examinations

Skin cancers most commonly develop on the parts of the body that are routinely exposed to the sun and the elements. The hands and arms, legs and upper torso, and face and scalp, are the most vulnerable areas of the body when it comes to skin cancer. There are three primary types of skin cancer – basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Each has distinctly different symptoms and warning signs. Regular self-examination is the key to detecting skin cancer early, so that treatment can begin and healing and recovery can ensue. Self-examinations should be performed regularly, at least once a month. A typical self-examination should take no more than ten minutes or so, and should be performed after you get out of the bath or shower. Look for changes in the texture or appearance of the skin. Suspicious spots, or changes in moles or freckles, should be closely monitored. These may signal the early signs of one or more of the most common forms of skin cancer.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal Cell Carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer, and generally presents on the areas of the body that have been overexposed to sunlight or UV radiation including tanning beds. Early signs of the disease appear as flat and scaly reddish patches, often with a brownish border. They may also present as hard scar-like lesions on the skin. In some cases, Basal Cell Carcinomas may appear as waxy bumps on the skin, often presenting with visible blood vessels throughout the tumor. Basal Cell Carcinomas are often itchy, and in some cases may bleed or become ulcerous.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

The second most common form of skin cancer, Squamous Cell Carcinoma, typically occurs in skin damaged by sun, radiation, toxins, or injury. Early signs of Squamous Cell Carcinoma may present as rough, scaly, patches on the skin. Squamous Cell Carcinomas may also appear as crusty red nodules, or as flat, crusted, skin abrasions. In some cases, Squamous Cell Carcinomas may take the appearance of small volcano shaped blisters surrounding a hard inner core. In advanced cases, these lesions may become itchy, and may bleed and become ulcerous.

Melanoma

Melanomas can occur anywhere on the body, though they tend to present most frequently on the upper torso, head, neck, and lower extremities. Melanomas may also develop on the palms and soles of the feet, and around the fingernails and toenails. Melanomas typically present as pigmented posts or streaks on the skin, usually with an irregular border. They may also take the form of moles that change, over time, in shape, color and size. Melanomas may also take the form of brownish spots, or bluish streaks or lesions. Amelanotic Melanomas are rarer, but no less dangerous, and often take the form of pinkish or flesh toned lesions. These are much harder to identify and diagnose, as they often go unnoticed in a typical self-examination.

One of the keys to successful cancer treatment is early detection. Skin cancer remains the most common form of cancer in the West, and the number of diagnosis grows every year. While it is highly treatable, and recovery rates are good, much depends on early detection. Make it a point to begin regular monthly routine of self-examination. Know your body and learn to identify any changes in skin tone, texture, and blemishes. Catching skin cancer early is the best way to ensure a total recovery.

The most important aspect of preventing skin cancer is being healthy. If you have chemicals and toxins stored in the tissues including the skin then when the sun hits the skin this causes the chemicals and toxins to react in the skin and can trigger a potential skin cancer. Remember native people who live their whole life in the sun but eat natural, raw food that do not get skin cancer. Skin is a reflection of what is going on inside the body. If the body is unhealthy so is the skin and more prone to cancer. Keep your body healthy and the chances for skin cancer are greatly decreased.

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