Detecting the First Signs of Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is a very common type of cancer, but since it shows on the patient’s skin, it can be detected early and, in many cases, be removed with a simple surgery without the need for more severe treatments with difficult side effects. The key to early detection is knowing the first signs of skin cancer and knowing what kinds of things you may find on your skin that mean you need to consult your doctor.

If skin cancer is allowed to progress beyond early stages, it may spread to the lymphatic system requiring the surgical removal of local lymph nodes. While this measure can save your life, it can also interrupt the normal movement of lymphatic fluids through that part of your body, possibly causing discomfort or hindering mobility. If a tumor is beyond its earliest stages of development, this may be done as a cautionary measure in case the tumor has metastasized, or spread through the lymphatic system. Metastasis is when cancerous cells move to other parts of the body. This can cause tumors to grow in other organs, but these tumors are made up of the same squamous, basal, or melanocyte cells as the original tumor. If this happens, additional surgeries and radiation or chemotherapy will be necessary.

The best way to avoid this is to have skin cancer removed at its earliest stage. Surgery alone or a combination of surgery and a topical radiation or chemotherapy can get rid of a tumor and make sure it doesn’t grow back, as long as it hasn’t spread to any other part of the body.

You should regularly look over your own skin, including between your toes and on your scalp, to detect any significant changes. This is called a skin self-examination, and it is similar to a breast examination in that a person can check for anything unusual that a doctor may need to look at.

Pay attention to your moles, or nevi. Nevi are benign growths of melanocyte, or pigment, cells. They are very common; most people have between 10 and 40 of them throughout their body. Having a significantly higher number is a risk factor for melanoma, so if you have more, do regular skin examinations and note any new moles or changes in old moles. Dysplastic nevi, which are oddly-shaped or asymmetrical moles, require special attention. You may want to ask your doctor to look at them when you do your normal checkups to see if they undergo any changes. If a dysplastic nevi changes shape or color dramatically, or the skin around it is red or irritated, it is time to see a doctor.

Squamous and basal cell cancers can appear as red or waxy lumps, or rashes or wounds that are unexplained or do not heal.

Detecting skin cancer early allows you to get the most effective skin cancer treatment and easiest recovery. Looking for the first signs of skin cancer lets you know when you need to visit your doctor.



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