Skin cancer is the most common form of human cancer, but is treatable when caught early. It's important to perform a self-examination at least once a month, especially if you burn easily, have fair skin, have a family history of skin cancer, spend lots of time in the sun, or have a lot of moles and freckles. Ten minutes of self-examination once a month could save your life.
Basal Cell Carcinomas
This is the least dangerous form of skin cancer, since it rarely spreads throughout the body. Ninety per cent of skin cancer cases are basal cell carcinoma, and they occur most frequently on the face. Check for shiny, pearly, or translucent bumps that may have areas of black, brown, blue, or prominent blood vessels. They may bleed, ooze, or crust.
Squamous Cell Carcinomas
This type of cancer occurs about 75 per cent less frequently than basal cell cancer, but its more dangerous, as it can spread to other parts of the body. It starts in the squamous cells, and is more common in men than in women. It may begin as a precancerous spot, called an actinic or solar keratosis, that looks like a red, rough, raised area against skin that is visibly sun damaged. Squamous cell carcinomas may be lumpy or flat, with red, rough, crusty, or scaly surfaces.
Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer. If it's not removed in the early stages, the cancer can spread into healthy tissue and invade the rest of your body, making it very difficult to cure. Thankfully, there's an easy mnemonic to use as you check for melanomas--ABCD: Asymmetry, Border, Color, Diameter.
Don't confuse melanoma with your normal, harmless moles. Normal moles don't change shape or size, and they're usually no larger than a pencil eraser. Watch out for moles that are asymmetric, meaning that one side is different from or doesn't match the other.
Moles with irregular borders may be cancerous. Look for borders that are blurred, jagged, or notched.
Normal moles are evenly coloured, usually tan, brown or black. Be alert for spots with varying colours. Cancerous spots may have different shades of tan, brown and black, as well as sections of white, pink, red, or even blue.
Spots that are larger than the width of a pencil eraser (about 1/4 inch) should be taken to a doctor. Don't let this fool you into thinking all melanomas are big, though; cancerous spots can be as small as a pinprick. It's important to get a full-body exam from your dermatologist, who can examine even the smallest irregularities for any signs of cancerous growth.