How to spot skin cancer and prevent it
Skin cancer is on the rise, especially among young people. In fact, rates for melanoma skin cancer have increased by 70% since the 1990s in those aged 25 to 49 years old. Luckily, when skin cancer is spotted early, it is curable in most instances.
What are the different types of skin cancer?
While many different forms of skin cancer exist, there are three main types:
- Basal cell carcinoma. This is the most common form of skin cancer. It develops from abnormal, uncontrolled growth of basal cells. Basal cell carcinoma tends to grow slowly, which means it's the most curable of all the skin cancers and causes minimal damage when caught early. Basal cell carcinoma can look like open sores, red patches, pink growths, and shiny bumps.
- Squamous cell carcinoma. This is the second most common form of skin cancer. It is caused by the accelerated, abnormal growth of squamous cells. Squamous cell carcinoma is usually curable when caught early. It can appear as scaly red patches, open sores, rough, thickened skin, or raised growths with a central depression.
- Melanoma. This is one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer. It develops when pigment-producing cells mutate and continue to divide uncontrollably. Melanoma can occur anywhere on the skin, and signs include the spread of pigment from the border of a spot into the surrounding skin and changes in the surface of a mole, such as scaliness, oozing, and bleeding.
Of the three main types of skin cancer, melanoma is by far the most aggressive and found in areas most exposed to the sun.
The ABCs of skin cancer
To catch skin cancer early and help prevent it from spreading, you should check your moles once a month and schedule a skin cancer check with a dermatologist once a year. Look for these signs when examining your moles:
- Asymmetry. Suspicious moles are asymmetrical. This means that, if you draw a line through the center of a mole, the two halves will look different in shape, color, or both.
- Border. Cancerous moles often have edges that are uneven, scalloped, or blurry.
- Color. A normal mole is one color throughout. But a cancerous mole may contain different colors or different shades of a color.
- Diameter. Most cancerous moles are roughly the size of a pencil eraser or larger.
- Evolution. If a mole or lesion is changing, this could indicate skin cancer.
If you do notice any suspicious moles, schedule an appointment to see a dermatologist right away for a follow-up.
How can you prevent skin cancer?
In addition to conducting monthly skin checks, to protect against skin cancer, you should:
- Stay out of the sun during the peak hours of 10 am and 4 pm
- Wear protective clothing when out in the sun
- Sport a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses
- Use broad-spectrum sunscreens year-round with an SPF of 30 or greater; use different formulas for your face and body
- Avoid tanning beds, which can increase your risk of skin cancer
- "15 Strategies That Help Prevent Skin Cancer, According to Dermatologists," Prevention, May 3, 2021.
- "The Different Types of Skin Cancer, Explained," Cosmopolitan, August 12, 2019.