Skin cancer is on the rise. In 2011 there were 2,209 deaths from malignant melanoma skin cancer in the UK. There are three types of skin cancer: basil cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer, but if you detect it early, treatment can be successful. The areas most likely to have spots are the scalp, lips, ears, neck, chest, arms, hands, legs and the face. Spots can appear suddenly or slowly over time.
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Know the types of skin cancer. Knowledge is the key to health. Basal cell carcinoma is a waxy bump or a flat scar-like lesion that may be flesh coloured or brown. Squamous cell carcinoma is a firm red nodule or a flat scaly lesion. Basal and squamous cell cancer usually show up on the lips, ears, neck, hands or arms. Melanoma may show up anywhere on the body or on an existing mole. It has different shapes and colours. It could be a large brown shape with black speckles. It could be a mole, which changes colour or bleeds. It could be a lesion, which has irregular edges or a dome-shaped bump.
Examine your face regularly. Skin cancer will change over time. Look for any lesions that changed colour, size or shape. Feel the spot to see if it changed. Look for asymmetrical shapes. One side may be raised and the other side flat. Borders may be vague. Watch for multiple colours.
Inspect your whole body. Melanoma spreads, whereas basal cell does not spread and squamous cell is not apt to spread. Melanoma can show up on the trunk, head, or neck of men and on the legs or arms of women. Look for rapid size increase over a few weeks.
Talk to your doctor. Even a small, black spot could be serious. A doctor should see any growth that is larger than a pencil eraser. Your doctor can tell instantly if a spot is cancerous. The physician will do a biopsy to determine the cancer stage. Not all skin changes are due to cancer, though, and a black spot does not necessarily mean cancer. It's important to see the doctor so treatment can begin immediately, if it is cancer.
Tips and warnings
- Protect your skin. Most skin cancers are caused by over exposure to sun. Wear sunscreen even in the winter and on cloudy days. Avoid the sun during the peak hours of the day between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.
- Become familiar with your body, so you are aware of new spots.
- Never put off seeing a doctor when a lesion or spot appears and does not disappear.