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If You Notice This on Your Body, You Might Have "Deadly Cancer"

Learn how to spot skin cancer and what to know about it. 

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, but it's also the most preventable. According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association, "Current estimates are that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. It is estimated that approximately 9,500 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with skin cancer every day." Like every other cancer, early detection is key and Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with Dr. Michael Raisch, Mohs Surgeon and Dermatologic Oncologist at Miami Cancer Institute, part of Baptist Health South Florida who shares signs of skin cancer to watch out for. As always, please consult with your physician for medical advice. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


Skin Cancer Affects Everyone

woman applying sunscreen to her shoulders to avoid skin cancer

Dr. Raisch reminds us, "Everyone is at risk for developing skin cancer. In fact, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States. It's important to take preventative measures to protect your skin when outdoors for any length of time, as most sun exposure adds up little by little over a lifetime. When possible, avoid hours of peak UV intensity (from 10 am – 4 pm), and wear Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) clothing, hats, and sunglasses. For areas you cannot cover up, apply a sunscreen, preferably one with broad-spectrum coverage and with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 30. I recommend water resistant sunscreens for days when swimming or exercising outside. For days when you are not planning on swimming or sweating, a moisturizer with sunscreen in it can be more cosmetically elegant because it doesn't need to be water or sweat resistant.

 Self-exams are extremely important in the early detection of skin cancer. Be sure to practice them using a mirror and, if possible, have a partner help you. Pay close attention to areas not exposed to the sun, looking for new black/brown areas, asymmetrical moles, open wounds that don't heal and old scars that develop open wounds. It's important to note that approximately 75% of skin cancers diagnosed in people of color are in areas that are not exposed to the sun, such as the palms of the hands, nail beds, soles of the feet, inside the mouth and/or the genitalia area. Due to the locations of these skin cancers, there is a higher mortality rate for people of color as diagnosis is often delayed. If you find an area of concern for yourself or a loved one, make an appointment with a Board-Certified dermatologist to have it checked. Thankfully, most people don't need to regularly see a dermatologist, but patients with a personal or family history of skin cancer should be checked at least annually."


A Spot or Pimple that Bleeds and Doesn't Heal Within a Month or Two

woman pimple

Dr. Raisch tells us, "A frequent scenario for people with basal cell carcinoma, which is the most common cancer in humans, is they have a spot that bleeds off and on over months. Many times people mistake this for a pimple. However, differentiating factors are that pimples should resolve within a few weeks and should not be recurring in the same exact spot. A recurring spot that scabs or bleeds with minimal trauma often is skin cancer. "


A Spot that is Changing Within Months

close-up of doctors hands checking mans moles

Dr. Raisch explains, "Dermatologists educate patients about the ABCDEs of melanoma. These are signs of concern to watch out for to clue you in that a spot on the skin may be a problem. The signs are Asymmetry, irregular Borders, multiple Colors, Diameter larger than 6 mm, and evolution. However, these signs can be boiled down to, "Is the spot changing?" And, if so, "Is it changing in an irregular way?" Time is also an important factor. Something that is growing rapidly is more urgent to be evaluated than something with very slow change over many years. Now that nearly everyone has a camera phone, it is easy to track if a spot is measurably changing with time. Simply take a photo of the concerning spot and then set a calendar alarm for a month or two in the future and take another photo. You can be even more accurate if you put a ruler next to the spot when you take the photos.  If someone is thinking of calling a Board-Certified dermatologist to check a spot of concern, they should definitely be taking a photo to bring to their appointment so the dermatologist can see how fast it is changing." 


A New or Unusual Spot No Matter Where It Is

A male physiotherapist examining mans back in the medical office.

"I encourage patients to be on the lookout for new growths, especially if it is an 'ugly duckling' and does not fit the pattern of the other spots on their skin," Dr. Raisch advises. "About 70% of melanomas will arise in totally normal skin (without a pre-existing mole). They can even arise in sun protected areas such as under hair, the genitals, under fingers or toenails, and on the palms or soles. For example, Bob Marley died of a melanoma that started as a black spot under his toenail. Catching these new growths early is important because melanoma is the most common cause of death from skin cancer, with about 20 Americans dying of melanoma daily. When caught early, melanoma is often easily cured with a simple removal." 


A Spot That Hurts

Uncomfortable young woman scratching her arm while sitting on the sofa at home.

Dr. Raisch states, "Pain is an indication of inflammation. While we often think of inflammation as being bad, it is actually an important immune response, especially to cancer and it is critical to eradicating cells that might become cancer. Having a spot that is hurting indicates your body is trying to fight whatever is there and sometimes it's fighting skin cancer.  Even if the spot is not a skin cancer, a Board-Certified dermatologist can often offer treatments to address the problem causing the inflammation, such as an infection."


Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather
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