Cancer is one of the most terrifying diagnoses a person can have, and skin cancer is particularly prevalent. There are more new cases of skin cancer diagnosed annually than there are for breast, prostate, colon, and lung cancer combined, and as many as one in five Americans will develop some form of skin cancer at some point in their lives. Even more surprisingly, one person dies from melanoma skin cancer every 54 minutes. 1
Signs of Skin Cancer: When Should You See a Doctor About That Mole?
Skin cancer comes in two primary forms: melanoma and non-melanoma. Both types are malignant, but non-melanoma skin cancers tend to be less aggressive and unlikely to spread to other regions of the body. Melanoma cancers, on the other hand, are very aggressive and likely to spread. Because of melanoma’s particularly aggressive, dangerous nature, it’s much more likely to be fatal than non-melanoma cancer.
Both melanoma and non-melanoma cancers generally appear as a raised/discolored bump or mole on the skin. Basal cell carcinoma (non-melanoma) is usually a smooth, pearly-looking bump on the head, neck, or shoulders. Squamous cell carcinoma (non-melanoma) is usually red, scaly, and thick, and may even bleed.
The American Melanoma Foundation has an easy set of “skin cancer ABCDs” that can help patients remember the four primary warning signs of melanoma: 2
- Asymmetry: The two halves of the mole are not symmetrical and don’t match
- Border irregularity: Blurry, uneven, not smooth
- Color variation: Different shades of black and brown pigment
- Diameter: A mole that’s larger than 6 mm across
If you notice any of the characteristics of skin on your body—especially in regions that see regular sun exposure—see a doctor immediately.
Avoiding Skin Cancer
Before cancer has a chance to take root, there are a number of things you can do to protect your skin:
- Try to avoid being in direct sunlight for too long, especially during the middle of the day when the exposure is most intense.
- Protect your skin by wearing clothing that covers your arms and legs, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses when you need to be in the sun for long periods.
- Always use sunscreen (at least SPF 15).
- Don’t go to tanning salons (you may like how it looks, but it adds unnecessary UV exposure).
Mole Removal with The Surgery Group of Los Angeles
If you have a suspicious mole that seems to be changing color, shape and/or size, it’s absolutely imperative that you get to a doctor as soon as possible. If you have skin cancer, what you view as “just a weird mole” could actually be a very real threat to your life.
The Surgery Group of Los Angeles is home to some of the best skin cancer surgeons in Los Angeles. If you live in southern California and have been diagnosed with skin cancer, our Los Angeles surgeons will work with you to remove it before it spreads. If you have a persistent melanoma, our surgeons will also refer you to other treatments, as needed. Our goal is to make sure you live a long, healthy life.