Few things are more important in life than good health. Eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of exercise is a great way to maintain overall wellbeing, however good habits alone cannot completely prevent illness and disease from developing. Luckily, serious issues generally come with symptoms to help alert individuals to their presence. Skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in the United States and, thanks to some obvious signs, generally one of the most treatable. Let’s look at what symptoms for which to watch as well as some of the typical causes of the cancer.
Skin Cancer Symptoms
Skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma usually manifest as changes to skin. These are often visible growths or lesions that are not the result of injury or trauma. Regular examination of skin for any unusual or new growths, changes in moles, or rashes is an important way to catch skin cancer early to help improve the chances for a successful treatment. Sometimes it can be difficult to catch potential problems, however, especially when you aren’t entirely sure what constitutes a risk factor.
Unusual sores or skin growths that don’t go away might be the first indication of skin cancer that is non-melanoma. The cancer might initially show up as nodules, irregular patches of skin, or rashes on the surface of your skin. More specifically, these areas might bleed easily, ooze, or be raised.
That does not mean that every potential problem is an obviously-problematic area with odd discharge. Sometimes these areas can seem innocuous, making it even more important to keep a close eye on your skin and reach out to a professional if any changes occur. If left untreated, skin cancer will grow and likely change forms. The visible skin mass might even shrink as the disease works its way into deeper layers.
Types of Skin Cancers
There are many different kinds of skin cancer and they all have distinct symptoms and medical care requirements. This section will explore some of the more common and what you should look for as you examine your skin.
Actinic keratosis, also known as solar keratosis, is commonly found on the hands, neck, or head, although it can develop elsewhere. This red spot is often topped with rough or scaly skin and may or may not eventually become cancerous over time. Because the chance is there, however, it is a good idea to see a doctor as soon as possible after discovering a suspicious patch of skin.
Cutaneous horns manifest as a funnel-shape growth that rises from a red patch on your skin. It extends outward like horns, hence the name, and is a kind of actinic keratosis. While most growths are only a few millimeters in length, the exact shape and size varies widely from person to person. Sometimes cutaneous horns will also have squamous cell carcinoma at its base.
Squamous cell carcinomas can develop as a lump that is covered with rough skin rather than a rash or lesion. You might also notice scaly red patches that continue to grow, albeit slowly. Squamous cell carcinomas are generally found on hands, necks, arms, or heads, but can also develop in skin sores, scars, or in the genital region.
Dysplastic nevi are a kind of atypical mole that is more likely to become cancerous than other moles. They can be found anywhere on the body and are irregular in shape, sporting fading or notched borders. They can be raised, flat, rough, or smooth, and are often a mix of red, brown, tan, and pink colors. Because the appearance is so diverse, it is a good idea to have any mole you notice examined by a medical professional.
Bowen disease is a specific type of squamous cell carcinoma that spreads towards the surface of the skn rather than in the deeper layers. The disease features reddish, scaly patches that are sometimes crusted and might be mistaken for eczema, rashes, psoriasis, or fungus.
Basal cell carcinoma is the easiest type of skin cancer to treat as well as the most common. It is a slow-spreading cancer that usually occurs in adults and can present with a few different characteristics. Sometimes basal cell carcinoma develops as a waxy or pearly white bump on the ears, face, or neck. Other times, the tumors might manifest as patches of flat, scaly skin on the chest or back.
What causes skin cancer ?
Sun exposure is, by far, the most common cause of skin cancer. This is one reason why consistently wearing sunscreen is so important. Without that protection, your skin will bear the full force of the UV rays that can cause damage and ultimately lead to cancer. Spending time in the shade, indoors, or wearing clothing with long sleeves or a wide-brimmed hat can also help safeguard your body from the sun.
Too much unprotected time in the sun doesn’t explain the types of skin cancers that develop on body parts that are not usually exposed to the sunlight. Instead, these forms of the disease tend to originate from radiation treatment, environmental hazards, and even genetic predispositions to the cancer.
The best way to protect yourself from skin cancer is to invest in a quality sunscreen and wear it every time you leave your home. If you have big windows and plenty of natural light in your home, you should it wear it while inside, too. Look for a high SPF and pay attention to the recommended reapplication times. In general, applying fresh sunscreen every two hours is the safest bet. Consider wearing hats outside to protect your scalp and shirts and pants with long sleeves to further negate the sun’s damaging rays.
To minimize your risk of experiencing serious complications from skin cancer, regularly examine your skin and bring any issues up to your primary care doctor or dermatologist.
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