Symptoms of Skin Cancer

Malignant Melanoma

This is the most serious of the three. Malignant melanoma is a cancer of the melanocytes ie the cells that produce melanin the pigment that protects your skin from the sun by making it darker. Melanin is also responsible for hair and eye color. The cancer usually develops from a mole but it may occur anywhere on your body eg under your nails in your eye etc. Changes in your mole's size, color, surface, shape and border area are indications malignant melanoma. Malignant melanoma if not dealt with early can easily spread to other parts of your body and it can be fatal.

Malignant melanoma occurs most commonly in middle-aged and older people, those who work for long periods of time outdoors and those who have been exposed to sunlight for many years.

Treatment consists of an operation to remove the cancerous mole. Skin grafts may also be carried out at the same time to prevent scarring. Radiotherapy and anticancer drugs may be needed.

Squamous Cell Cancers

Squamous cell cancers are more common in fair or pale skinned people who are over 60. The cancer develops in areas of skin that have received a large amount of sunlight over time. People who have worked with chemical substances such as arsenic, tar, coal, paraffin and heavy oils are also at risk of developing the cancer.

Solar keratoses, benign (non-cancerous) wart like growths often develop in older people and in some cases are a sign that skin cancer could develop. This type of cancer usually does not spread to other parts of your body.

The cancer begins as a small, hard, painless lump or patch. The most common sites are on your lip, ear or the back of your hand. Squamous cancer grows very slowly and looks like a wart or ulcer. It is treated in the same way as a malignant melanoma with the added treatment of cryosurgery where extreme cold is used to destroy tissue.

Basal Cell Cancers

Basal skin cancer is the most common form of skin cancer in the United Kingdom. People over the age of 50 with fair or pale skin or those who work outdoors are in the high risk group. This type of cancer occurs mainly on your faced and neck but the tumor can affect any part of your body. The cancer grows very slowly eventually forming a pearly colored lump with a crater in the center. As the cancer grows it becomes more like an ulcer with raised edges and if not treated the cancer eats the surrounding tissue giving it the appearance of being gnawed - hence the name rodent ulcer. However, the cancer rarely spreads to other parts of the body and is treated in the same way as the other two types of cancer. Once treated the sufferer usually makes a complete recovery.

Checking Yourself for Skin Cancer

  • Examine head and face, using a mirror and blow dryer to check your scalp.
  • Check hands, including nails. In a full-length mirror, examine elbows, arms and underarms.
  • Focus on your neck, chest and torso. Women should check under their breasts.
  • With your back to a wall mirror, use a hand mirror to inspect the back of your neck, shoulders, upper arms, back, buttocks and legs.
  • Sitting down, check your legs and feet, including soles, heels and nails.

What to look for

Be alert to irregulations in A, B, C and D - asymmetry, border, color and diameter - in a mole. See a doctor if you detect any of these signs:

  • Asymmetry - most melanomas are asymmetrical.
  • Border - melanoma borders often are uneven and may have scalloped or notched edges.
  • Color - varied shades of brown, tan or black.
  • Diameter - a mole that's larger than a pencil eraser.
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