By Maggie Chow, MD, Ph.D.
The sun shines brightly in Southern California. We are blessed with over 300 days of warm and beautiful weather a year, but the wonderful sun puts us at risk for skin cancers. It is a misconception that only people with light skin tones can get skin cancers when actually, everyone has the potential to develop them. In general, skin cancers that are caught early and removed surgically do not pose any long-term health risks. However, cancers that are allowed to grow without treatment have the opportunity to invade and metastasize or spread.
How Do I Identify Melanoma?
There are two main subtypes of skin cancer: melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers. Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer with the highest propensity to spread and cause death. Fortunately, this type of skin cancer is rarer. You can pick up warning signs of pigmented spots on your skin by looking for the ABCDEs:
A is for Asymmetry: picture folding the lesion in half. It should match both sides. Asymmetry is considered an ominous sign.
B is for Borders: the borders of the lesion should be smooth and regular. Jagged, irregular borders can be a red flag.
C is for Color: the color of the lesion should be the same throughout the lesion. Multiple colors within the same lesion could be a bad sign.
D is for Diameter: the lesion should be less than 6 mm, less than the size of a pencil eraser.
E is for Evolution: lesions should stay relatively stable through time. Growth and change are worrisome features in a lesion. To me, evolution is one of the most important signs of a malignant lesion, and my policy is always to biopsy a lesion that the patient says has been growing or changing.
Of course, finding a melanoma is more nuanced than just the ABCDEs, so it is essential to see your board-certified dermatologist to look in every nook and cranny!
How Can I Identify Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer?
Non-melanoma skin cancers tend to grow more slowly but can still be associated with invasion and metastasis if they are allowed to grow over a long period of time. These cancers can have a variety of appearances depending on the subtype of the tumor; however, some hallmarks to look out for include nonhealing, bleeding, crusting red spots on the skin on sun-exposed areas of the body. If a spot on your skin looks like a scrape or pimple and doesn’t heal in 2 months, it is time to see your dermatologist to ensure that it is not skin cancer. Your dermatologist should perform an annual skin exam, and they should check you more frequently if you have a personal or family history of skin cancer or melanoma.
Nervous? Full-body skin exams are performed by a well-trained eye and can be completed in just a few minutes. Dermatologists undergo training in clinical diagnosis, biopsy, pathology-reading, and surgical removal of all types of skin cancers. Let us help you comprehensively manage your skin cancers at Skin & Beauty Center.