Patients often ask us how to recognize skin cancer. As a rule, any time you see something on your skin that looks WRONG, you should come in and let us have a look. What do I mean by “wrong”?
Most importantly, if you ever see a little blemish or mole that contains black pigment, it might be a melanoma, and we should see it as soon as possible. By black, we mean BLACK like this. If the pigment is tan or dark brown, that’s not as worrisome, but you should still show any suspicious skin changes to us at your next opportunity.
The other thing to watch out for is any patch of skin that just looks “sick” – there’s just something about it that’s “not right”. Maybe it’s always inflamed or scaly or weepy. Maybe once in a while it sort of breaks down, maybe bleeds a drop or two, then crusts over, seems like it’s going to heal; but then it doesn’t heal and flares up again and again. Better let us see that, too.
To give you some idea what you’re looking for, here are some photos of skin cancers (and pre-cancerous skin changes).
This is an “Actinic Keratosis” (sometimes called a “Solar Keratosis”). It is one of those pre-malignant skin changes I mentioned, an area that “never seems to heal completely.” Note the scaling and subtle inflammation (redness).
This is another Actinic Keratosis. Again, it’s only pre-malignant; but certainly more obvious than the one above.
This is a “Basal Cell Carcinoma.” the least aggressive of the skin cancers. Note the raised lighter border and slightly depressed center. If you pull the skin tight over one of these, the lighter margin is often much more obvious.
If you’re ever going to have a skin cancer, this is the one you want. Most of these are localized (“what you see is what you get”); so they can be totally removed with little fear of recurrance at the same site. These cancers rarely metastasize, but people who have had a lot of sun exposure may develop multiple basal cell carcinomas over time.
This is a more advanced Basal Cell Carcinoma. The location is unfortunate because even the best plastic surgery will probably leave a noticeable scar on this man’s nose.
This is an even more advanced Basal Cell Carcinoma. Note the crusting and weeping. These lesions sometimes bleed as well.
This is a “Squamous Cell Carcinoma.” Note that it is raised and seems to have a more ominous appearance. These cancers can sometimes metastasize elsewhere in the body which makes them more dangerous than a Basal Cell Carcinoma.
This is another Squamous Cell Carcinoma. Note the highly irregular borders and darker pigmentation. Because of this dark pigmentation, it’s impossible to tell that this is not a Melanona without a biopsy.
This is an early “Melanoma,” by far the worst type of skin cancer. Note the flecks of BLACK pigmentation with some “smearing” of pigment into the adjacent tissue. Also note the irregular borders. Melanomas typically metastasize, usually very early, and are often fatal.
Here is another Melanoma. Note the BLACK pigment and the irregular border.
Click here learn more about melanoma.
Two more Melanomas:
If you ever notice an unusual skin change anywhere on your body, come on in and let us take a look at it with you. It’s better to be on the safe side.
Remember, whenever you’re out in our Texas sun, WEAR SUNSCREEN!