Would you recognize the signs of skin cancer?

Published: Thursday, May 30, 2024
Radiation Oncology

Skin cancer is the most diagnosed cancer in the United States. Millions of Americans are diagnosed each year with some type of skin cancer.

While skin cancer is quite common, it’s also usually quite treatable—when it’s detected early. That’s why it’s important to familiarize yourself with the signs of skin cancer and to examine your skin regularly.

Organizations such as the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) and the Skin Cancer Foundation recommend having an annual full-body skin check with a dermatologist. In addition to those visits, though, you should also get to know your own skin.

Understanding skin cancer signs & symptoms

When it comes to skin cancer, there’s a bit of good news: Unlike other forms of cancer, which often hide inside the body, skin cancer is usually visible from the outside, if you know what to look for.

When you examine your skin, you’re looking for anything that seems unusual or out of the norm. Signs of skin cancer can include:

  • Brown or black streaks under your nails
  • Dome-shaped growths
  • Moles that change or look different from others on your skin
  • Nonhealing sores or sores that recur
  • Scaly patches

Still a little confused about what you’re looking for? The AAD offers a simple acronym for how to spot abnormalities that could be skin cancer: ABCDE.

Take time regularly to look at your entire body in a full-length mirror, including often-forgotten spots like your underarms, fingernails, elbow creases, behind your legs, and between your toes. You should also use a mirror to look at your head and scalp. Check for:

  • Asymmetry
    If one half of a skin spot is unlike the other half, have a medical provider take a look.
  • Border
    A skin spot with an irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined border is more likely to be skin cancer.
  • Color
    Noncancerous skin spots are typically only one color, while a spot that’s cancerous may have varying color from one area to another. This could include shades of brown, black, white, red, or even blue.
  • Diameter
    A skin spot that’s larger than the size of a pencil eraser should be considered suspicious.
  • Evolving
    If you notice that any spot on your skin changes over time, have a dermatologist take a look.

Skin cancer can appear differently from one person to another because of differences in skin tone and other factors that make us unique. It’s important to know what’s normal for your skin—and then to keep an eye on your skin over time, watching for any changes or spots that are out of the norm for you.

What you can do to protect your skin

Skin cancer is common, but it’s also largely preventable! Ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun and from tanning beds are the most common cause of skin cancer.

As summer gets underway, our beautiful weather may be calling you outdoors. With the help of some sun safety basics, you can take advantage of everything our community has to offer while still protecting your skin.

Wondering how to stay sun-safe? These are the basics:

  • Always use sunscreen.
    About 20 minutes before going outside, apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30 on all exposed skin. Reapply sunscreen at least every two hours, or more often if you’re swimming or sweating excessively.
  • Apply sunscreen correctly.
    If you’re using sunscreen in a lotion form, use roughly a shot glass full (about an ounce) to adequately cover all your skin. If you’re using a spray sunscreen, it isn’t enough to just spray it on. Spray it on and then rub it in to ensure you get an even coat. Same goes for stick sunscreen; it needs to be rubbed in. No matter what type of sunscreen you use, don’t forget to apply it to your ears, nose, toes, and scalp.
  • Seek shade.
    While it’s tempting to soak up the sun, you can still enjoy the beauty of the day when you spend a little time in the shade. Plant yourself under an umbrella, overhang or patio roof to shield you from the sun’s UV rays. Bonus? You’ll stay cooler that way.
  • Choose your outdoor time wisely.
    The sun’s rays are most intense between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., so spend time outdoors in the early morning or evening. You can also check the predicted UV index on most weather apps. If the index for the day is “very high” or “extreme,” you may want to plan indoor time instead.
  • Use your outfit to protect yourself.
    Have you ever heard of UPF? It’s the clothing equivalent of SPF. You can protect your skin by wearing clothing containing UPF, and choosing long pants and long sleeves can also provide some protection from the sun. While that isn’t always practical during the heat of the day during summer, it’s something to consider when you’re planning a long outdoor activity, such as hiking.
  • Top things off with a hat.
    These days, you can find sunscreens specifically designed to spray on your scalp, but a hat is still your best defense against UV rays. Choose a wide-brimmed hat to protect your scalp, ears, and neck. You should also pop on a pair of sunglasses that contain UV protection to protect your eyes and the sensitive skin around your eyes from the sun.

The final tip isn’t related to being sun-safe, but it is related to UV rays. Think that the tanning bed is a safer way of getting a tan? Think again! A single session in a tanning bed significantly increases your risk of skin cancer, including melanoma, so steer clear.

Learn more

If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with skin cancer, the Cancer Services team at Northeast Georgia Medical Center is here to help. Call 770-525-5349 or visit our Cancer Services page to learn more.