Skin Cancer Prevention and Detection

Dr. Howard L. Brooks can provide accurate diagnosis and treatment for the common types of skin cancer listed below. Early detection is critical for the early diagnosis of skin cancer, so keep an eye on any moles and schedule regular check-ups. SKIN Cosmetic Dermatology can provide mole evaluation, skin cancer evaluation and treatment.

Skin cancer is the abnormal growth of skin cells  most often develops on skin exposed to the sun. But this common form of cancer can also occur on areas of your skin not ordinarily exposed to sunlight. There are three major types of skin cancer — basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma.

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) is the most common form of skin cancer. It develops in areas of sun exposure and may take 20 – 30 years to grow. This tumor of the skin usually appears as a small, fleshy bump or nodule on the head, neck or other part of the body. The tumor does not spread quickly and may take months or even years to reach the diameter of half an inch. This type of skin cancers rarely spread to other organs. The most common appearance is an elevated, pearly white colored, irregular shaped and ulcerated lesion. However, they can be pigmented, nodular shaped or appear as an irritated reddish plaque. Although basal cell carcinoma rarely spreads to other parts of the body, it can extend below the skin and outwardly causing considerable damage.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) is generally related to chronic sun exposure, however, one might see this cancer after burns, radiation damage, damage to the immune system and long standing ulcers or sores. These tumors may appear as bumps or red, scaly patches. Squamous cell carcinoma is typically found on the rim of the ear, the face, the lips and mouth. The tumors can become larger and even can spread to other parts of the body if neglected.

Malignant Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer, develops in the cells that produce melanin — the pigment that gives your skin its color. Melanoma can also form in your eyes and, rarely, in internal organs, such as your intestines. The exact cause of all melanomas isn’t clear, but exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight or tanning lamps and beds increases your risk of developing melanoma. Other factors, such as your genetic makeup, likely also play a role.

Melanomas can develop anywhere on your body, but they most often develop in areas that have had exposure to the sun, such as your back, legs, arms and face. Melanomas can also occur in areas that don’t receive much sun exposure, such as the soles of your feet, palms of your hands and on fingernail beds. These hidden melanomas are more common in people with darker skin.

The first melanoma symptoms often are:

  • A change in an existing mole
  • The development of a new, unusual-looking growth on your skin

Melanoma doesn’t always begin as a mole. It can also occur on otherwise normal-appearing skin.

Normal moles
Normal moles are generally a uniform color, such as tan, brown or black, with a distinct border separating the mole from your surrounding skin. They’re oval or round and usually smaller than 1/4 inch (6 millimeters) in diameter — the size of a pencil eraser.

Most people have between 10 and 40 moles. Many of these develop by age 40, although moles may change in appearance over time — some may even disappear with age.

Unusual moles that may indicate melanoma
Characteristics of unusual moles that may indicate melanomas or other skin cancers follow the A-B-C-D-E guide developed by the American Academy of Dermatology:

  • A is for asymmetrical shape. Look for moles with irregular shapes, such as two very different-looking halves.
  • B is for irregular border. Look for moles with irregular, notched or scalloped borders — characteristics of melanomas.
  • C is for changes in color. Look for growths that have many colors or an uneven distribution of color.
  • D is for diameter. Look for new growth in a mole larger than about 1/4 inch (6 millimeters).
  • E is for evolving. Look for changes over time, such as a mole that grows in size or that changes color or shape. Moles may also evolve to develop new signs and symptoms, such as new itchiness or bleeding.

Other suspicious changes in a mole may include:

  • Scaliness
  • Itching
  • Spreading of pigment from the mole into the surrounding skin
  • Oozing or bleeding

Cancerous (malignant) moles vary greatly in appearance. Some may show all of the changes listed above, while others may have only one or two unusual characteristics.

Hidden melanomas
Melanomas can also develop in areas of your body that have little or no exposure to the sun, such as the spaces between your toes and on your palms, soles, scalp or genitals. These are sometimes referred to as hidden melanomas, because they occur in places most people wouldn’t think to check. When melanoma occurs in people with darker skin, it’s more likely to occur in a hidden area.

Hidden melanomas include:

  • Melanoma under a nail. Subungual melanoma is a rare form that occurs under a nail and can affect the hands or the feet. It’s more common in blacks and in other people with darker skin pigment. The first indication of a subungual melanoma is usually a brown or black discoloration that’s often mistaken for a bruise (hematoma).
  • Melanoma in the mouth, digestive tract, urinary tract or vagina. Mucosal melanoma develops in the mucous membrane that lines the nose, mouth, esophagus, anus, urinary tract and vagina. Mucosal melanomas are especially difficult to detect because they can easily be mistaken for other, far more common conditions. A melanoma in a woman’s vagina can cause itching and bleeding. Anal melanoma can cause anal bleeding and pain during bowel movements. Melanoma that occurs in the esophagus can cause difficulty swallowing.
  • Melanoma in the eye. Eye melanoma, also called ocular melanoma, occurs in the uvea — the layer beneath the white of the eye (sclera). An eye melanoma may cause vision changes and may be diagnosed during an eye exam.