The incidence of skin cancer is increasing the world over especially among persons of Caucasian origins. Sun exposure is an important factor. Fortunately, as they are on the surface, with some knowledge, one can nip them in the bud. However since skin lesions are also very common, a cancerous one may exist but not be noticed for a long time. Here are some tips and pointers that will help you to suspect skin cancers and seek timely and early help. Remember that plastic surgeons are best equipped to diagnose and treat all types of skin cancers.
There are many types but the three commonest ones are Basal Cell Cancer (BCC), Squamous Cell Cancer(SCC) and Malignant Melanoma(MM).BCC is the commonest and MM is the rarest but also the most dangerous and usually look like common moles. Some skin cancers originate in the deeper part of skin such as dermatofibrosarcoma (DFS).
Some general points: Cancerous skin lesions tend to grow steadily and even rapidly, are usually painless, may develop a break in the surface (ulcer) and then may bleed on minor trauma. They may appear to heal but recur in the same spot again. Specific parameters for moles that point to malignancy are noted inside.
Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)
Basal cell carcinoma usually presents as a raised, smooth, pearly bump on the sun-exposed skin of the head, neck or shoulders. Sometimes small blood vessels can be seen within the tumor. They may also just be flat patches. Crusting and bleeding frequently developsin the center. It is often mistaken for a sore that does not heal. This form of skin cancer is the least deadly and with proper treatment can be completely eliminated, often with minimal scarring. As they burrow deeply they are called rodent ulcers.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)
Squamous cell carcinoma is commonly a red, scaling, thickened patch on sun-exposed skin. Some are firm hard nodules and dome shaped (keratoacanthomas). Ulceration and bleeding may occur often. When SCC is not treated, it may develop into a large mass. Squamous cell is the second most common skin cancer. It is dangerous, but not nearly as dangerous as a MM.
Melanoma Malignum (MM)
Most melanomas look like moles of various colors from shades of brown to black. A minority are pink, red or fleshy in color (amelanoticvariant). Warning signs of malignant melanoma include change in the size, shape, color or elevation of a mole. Since everyone has a few moles on the body (which are benign) it is important to separate the ‘suspicious’ ones from the common benign variety. Persons with more than 10 moles on their body are 10-12 time more at risk of developing malignant ones [Dysplastic Nevus Syndrome]
Expert Task forces have suggested several suspicious features which can be remembered by the mnemonic “ABCDE”:
A is for asymmetry in the shape. If you draw a line through the mole the two sides do not match
B is for boarders; we are looking for notching, scalloping or irregularity in form.
C is for color; variations in shade or frankly different colors in the same mole should make you suspicious. Even a colorless halo around a colored mole.
D is for diameter and any lesion exceeding 6 mm in diameter is potentially suspicious (more than the eraser on your pencil).
E is for evolving; any change in any of the ABCD traits or any new symptoms such as itching, bleeding, crusting or pain etc point to potential seriousness.
If any of these signs is noticed in a lesion, it should be referred to a dermatologist or Plastic Surgeon for further analyzing (dermoscopy/biopsy) or excision.