The Warning Signs of Skin Cancer
Skin cancers — including melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma — often start as changes to your skin. They can be new growths or precancerous lesions — changes that are not cancer but could become cancer over time. An estimated 40% to 50% of fair-skinned people who live to be 65 will develop at least one skin cancer. Learn to spot the early warning signs. Skin cancer can be cured if it’s found and treated early.
Actinic Cheilitis (Farmer’s Lip)
Related to actinic keratosis, actinic cheilitis is a precancerous condition that usually appears on the lower lips. Scaly patches or persistent roughness of the lips may be present. Less common symptoms include swelling of the lip, loss of the sharp border between the lip and skin, and prominent lip lines. Actinic cheilitis may evolve into invasive squamous cell carcinoma if not treated.
When Is a Mole a Problem?
A mole (nevus) is a benign growth of melanocytes, cells that gives skin its color. Although very few moles become cancer, abnormal or atypical moles can develop into melanoma over time. “Normal” moles can appear flat or raised or may begin flat and become raised over time. The surface is typically smooth. Moles that may have changed into skin cancer are often irregularly shaped, contain many colors, and are larger than the size of a pencil eraser. Most moles develop in youth or young adulthood. It’s unusual to acquire a mole in the adult years.
Melanoma is not as common as other types of skin cancer, but it’s the most serious and potentially deadly. Possible signs of melanoma include a change in the appearance of a mole or pigmented area. Consult a doctor if a mole changes in size, shape, or color, has irregular edges, is more than one color, is asymmetrical, or itches, oozes, or bleeds.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
This nonmelanoma skin cancer may appear as a firm red nodule, a scaly growth that bleeds or develops a crust, or a sore that doesn’t heal. It most often occurs on the nose, forehead, ears, lower lip, hands, and other sun-exposed areas of the body. Squamous cell carcinoma is curable if caught and treated early. If the skin cancer becomes more advanced, treatment will depend on the stage of cancer.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma is the most common and easiest-to-treat skin cancer. Because basal cell carcinoma spreads slowly, it occurs mostly in adults. Basal cell tumors can take on many forms, including a pearly white or waxy bump, often with visible blood vessels, on the ears, neck, or face. Tumors can also appear as a flat, scaly, flesh-colored or brown patch on the back or chest, or more rarely, a white, waxy scar.
Reduce Your Risk of Skin Cancer
Limit your exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest. While outdoors, liberally apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher (don’t forget the lips and ears!), wear a hat and sunglasses, and cover up with clothing. And remember, if you notice changes to your skin such as a new growth, a mole changing appearance, or a sore that won’t heal, see a doctor right way.
Did you know at every routine checkup at Smile Ballard, Dr. Curalli and his hygienists check for signs of skin cancer on the lips and around the mouth? Just another good reason to stay up on your dental check-ups! Be sure to call Smile Ballard, your Seattle Ballard dental office, at 206-784-6310 to schedule your checkup today!