Skin cancer is of two types – melanoma and non-melanoma. Melanoma is a more dangerous form of skin cancer, which has low survivability rates especially if it is detected late. It is generally seen that non-melanomas are more common than melanomas. There are two types of non-melanomas – basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.
Common Signs And Symptoms of Skin Cancer
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Appearance of pearly bumps
The appearance of bumps on the surface of the skin is one of the very first developments. The bumps are raised, smooth and are generally seen on the sun-exposed skin of the head and the neck. This is symptomatic of a basal cell carcinoma. More often than not, these are mistaken for sores, which do not heal.
The appearance of small blood vessels can be seen on a basal carcinoma bump. These are quite obvious in the initial stages. Because they look like ordinary bumps, it is hard to tell them apart from normal moles without performing a biopsy.
Basal cell carcinomas are more vividly seen on the chest and back. They look like patches of raw and dry skin. They develop very slowly. Most take a few years to be vivid or visible to the naked eye.
Their scope of metastasizing is very little. However, they can disfigure the organs or places on the skin where they erupt. They can damage sensitive organs like the ears and nose.
Crusting and bleeding is very common in most skin cancers. The bumps or sores turn into large-scale depressions, which bleed, form ulcers and form scabs after the bleeding subsides.
In squamous cell carcinoma, there are no bumps or ulcers. Instead, the skin becomes red, patchy, scaly and develops big patches or masses on the surface of the skin. The patches are quite thick and well defined.
If left untreated, the squamous cell carcinomas may ulcerate or bleed.
Appearance on sun damaged skin
Squamous cell carcinomas appear on sun-damaged skin especially skin that looks mottled and tanned. Their first appearance is in the form of actinic keratosis in which small red bumps appear on the surface of the skin.
The bumps can be painful, tender and sore to touch.
This is a superficial form of squamous skin cancer in which the lower lip develops redness and gets the appearance of scales. The border between the skin and the lips often becomes blurred in this form of skin cancer.
Some squamous cell cancers take the appearance of cutaneous horns. The growth is often funnel shaped and rises above the surface of the skin. The size and shape of the growth varies considerably. This is one of the first signs of a precancerous growth, which then goes on to develop into full-fledged cancer.
Melanomas are a very aggressive form of skin cancer. They are also more dangerous.
Beginnings of a mole
Small or large moles begin to appear on the surface of the skin. These tend to spring up suddenly and may increase in their size and numbers
Black, unevenly spread lesions are also typically seen in skin cancers like melanoma. The pigmented lesions may be brown or black. The typical warning signs include a change in the shape, colour texture and elevation of the mole.
Lesions are asymmetrical
A cancerous melanoma has lesions, which look asymmetrical. One side of the lesion does not look like the other. Thus, the lesions may appear patchy, ill formed and dull.
Borders of the lesion are not clear
One of the most important features of a cancerous lesion is that the border is flaky or appears botched. The borders may also have a hazy pattern and may not be very clearly defined.
The colour of the lesions is not restricted to black, brown or white. They may take on hues of tan, red, white or even blue.
Size of the lesions
The lesions are quite big in size. An average cancerous lesion may be 6 mm across, or may even increase in size over a period of time.
Moles Acquired in the Adult Years
Moles acquired in the adult years are unusual and should always be investigated for skin cancer. This is because the moles are often formed in the early years of childhood only.
Another aspect to consider in melanoma is the evolving nature of the mole. The mole often changes its shape and size over the years.
Melanomas are very aggressive and hence difficult to treat. They often go unnoticed for many years, as people tend to neglect the appearance of moles on the surface of the skin. By the time an accurate diagnosis can be made, the cancer has already metastasized to other parts of the body. Unless the moles are spotted early on and rectified, they can metastasize and affect other organs and body parts. This is very true of cancers that are deeply embedded into the skin.
It has been seen that fair skinned and freckled skin is more likely to develop skin cancers. This is because it is easily burnt and has lesser of the protective skin pigment called as melanin. Caucasians also tend to bask in the sun more often in the quest to get tanned. They spend a lot of time outdoors without bothering about sun protection.
This puts them at risk for developing certain kinds of skin cancers. Around a million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed every year especially in the US and European nations. The good news is that squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma can be easily treated if diagnosed at an earlier stage. Melanoma on the other hand is more aggressive and remains unresponsive to treatment especially if it has metastasized or spread to the other organs of the body. As with any other cancer, early detection and preventive self-care measures are crucial for protecting oneself from skin cancer.