Skin examinations are an important part of finding skin cancers. Identifying pre-cancerous lesions and skin cancers early allows for easier treatment. Full body skin examinations and medical photography (skin mapping) are our most powerful tools in skin cancer detection. Personal factors including history of skin cancers, age, family history of skin cancer, and the number of skin lesions determine how often screening is needed. If the mark on your skin looks like it could be a sign of cancer, then we will call for a skin biopsy to make a diagnosis.
Skin biopsies are an in-office procedure where a small sample of skin is taken to be examined and tested. Skin biopsies are a relatively simple way to identify skin cancers and to decide if further treatment is needed for a concerning spot. After the skin sample is examined under a microscope and it is determined that it contains cancer cells, then you will be diagnosed and you will begin treatment. Again, the easier this is done, the better the chances of preventing the disease from spreading.
Basal Cell Carcinomas (BCCs)
Basal cell carcinomas are abnormal and uncontrolled growths that rise from the epidermis. They are slow-growing and usually appear as smooth, pink bumps with a pearly sheen that later crusts, ulcerates, and bleeds. Commonly, they appear on sun-exposed parts of the body, like the head, neck, face, ears, scalp, shoulders, back, and hands. BCCs are caused by the combination of intermittent and intense exposure, or cumulative and long-term exposure to UV radiation from the sun. It is the most common form of skin cancer and affects more than 4 million people in the United States. It can be destructive and can even spread, especially if it is not treated early on. When performing an at-home examination, look for the following:L
- Raised reddish patches that might be itchy
- Small, red, pink, translucent, shiny, pearly pumps that have blue, brown or black areas
- Open sores that aren’t healing, or have healed but are now open again
- Flat, firm, pale, or yellow areas that are similar to that of a scar
Squamous Cell Carcinomas (SCCs)
Squamous cell carcinoma is an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells arising from the squamous cells in the outermost layer of the epidermis. Similarly to BCCs, SCCs are found in sun-exposed parts of the body like the ears, face, hands, scalp, and neck where the skin reveals signs of sun damage like wrinkles and age spots. Cumulative and long-term exposure to UV radiation can contribute to the production of most SCCs, making it the second most common form of skin cancer. When performing an at-home examination, look for the following:
- Rough or scaly red patches that may crust and bleed
- Wart-like growths
- Raised growths or lumps that have a lower area in the center
Merkel Cell Carcinoma (MCC)
Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare and aggressive skin cancer that appears as firm, painless lesions or nodules on a sun-exposed area, like on the eyelids or around the head and neck. MCCs are associated with a virus called the Merkel cell polyomavirus, and begin in Merkel cells at the base of the epidermis. Contrasted to BCCs and SCCs, MCCs develop on sun-exposed areas in fair-skin individuals over the age of 50. There is a higher risk of recurring and spreading throughout the body, so it is absolutely crucial to detect this skin cancer early on.
Skin cancer isn’t going to get itself checked — that’s up to you. Any spot in your body that looks like it could be skin cancer just might be, making it crucial for you to schedule a skin exam with your dermatologist. At Colorado Skin Surgery & Dermatology, our Board Certified Dermatologists are experts in skin cancer detection, treatment, and prevention. To schedule an appointment, contact us today.