Maintaining your health requires more than living a healthy lifestyle and keeping up with regular health care like screenings and check-ups. It also takes knowing your body and seeing a doctor when something seems amiss, such as changes in or on your skin.
Skin cancer often appears as a new or changing mark on your skin, and if you spot something early, your chances of successful treatment are greater.
“My favorite tip is to look for the outlier, or ugly duckling spot, that is new or changing,” says Saira George, M.D., a dermatologist at MD Anderson in Sugar Land. “Cancer cells are abnormal cells that are growing and dividing abnormally, so spots related to skin cancer will often look different from other spots on your skin.”
Anything on your skin that is out of the ordinary should be checked out by your doctor, but there are some common ways that early skin cancer can show up.
Melanoma is a rare but serious type of skin cancer that appears as a new, unusual mole. It can also begin in an existing mole. Use the ABCDEs of melanoma to help you know what types of skin changes to look for.
Asymmetry. If the two sides of the mole look different from each other, this can be a sign that something is wrong.
Border. If the border of your mole is crooked, jagged or irregular, let your doctor check it out.
Color. Moles that are multi-colored may signal skin cancer is beginning.
Diameter. Check the diameter of your moles. Any that are more than six millimeters wide should be checked out. That’s about the width of a pencil eraser.
Evolution. If any mole has changed in size, shape or feeling, talk to your doctor.
Watch for other suspicious spots
Skin cancer does not always look like an abnormal, dark mole. It can also show up as growing, changing spot that can be the same color as your skin, pink or red.
Suspicious spots can look flat or raised and have a scaly or smooth surface. A sore that doesn’t heal up or a spot that bleeds easily should also be checked out.
Anyone can get skin cancer no matter their skin tone, and it can appear anywhere on your body. Get help to look at hard-to-see areas like the top of your head. You may also feel rough or raised areas when you shampoo or apply lotion.
“Many times, differences on your skin turn out to be harmless,” says George, “Getting them checked out as soon as you can gives you the best change to address problems early, when treatment is easiest.”