Did you find a spot on your skin that looks a little suspicious? Are you questioning if it is skin cancer? For starters, let us just say kudos on paying attention! It is so vital to watch yourself for these things because early detection truly saves lives.
As dermatologists we get asked often if skin cancer can look like specific things:
“Can skin cancer look like a pimple?”
“Can skin cancer look like a regular mole?”
Each type of skin cancer can appear differently.
- Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma can appear as a flesh-colored, pearl-like bump – some would say looks like a pimple – or a pinkish patch of skin. They are commonly found on the head, neck, and arms, yet can form anywhere on the body, including the chest, abdomen, and legs.
- Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type of skin cancer. Squamous cell carcinoma often appears as a red firm bump, scaly patch, or a sore that heals and then re-opens. SCC tends to form on skin that gets frequent sun exposure, such as the rim of the ear, face, neck, arms, chest, and back.
- Melanoma is a deadly form of skin cancer because of its ability to metastasize to local lymph nodes and other organs. It can develop in an existing mole but is actually more likely to suddenly develop as a new dark spot on the skin.
- Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare form of skin cancer that presents with a rapidly growing, painless, firm, shiny nodule typically on the head and neck region.
In the early stages of skin cancer, it can look like what would appear as a brand new mole or freckle or it can develop within an existing mole that you have had for years and years. The key to spotting skin cancer early is by paying attention to your skin. When you notice a new spot, does it appear different? Is the color different than your other moles or freckles? If you even have an inkling of a spot not looking quite right, call your local board-certified dermatologist for an appointment as soon as possible. Skin cancer screenings take around 10 minutes and can be lifesaving.
What to look for in a normal vs abnormal spot
As a dermatologist, when we educate our patients on examining their own skin, we commonly refer them to the ABCDE’s.
Melanoma lesions are often irregular, or not symmetrical, in shape. A non-cancerous mole is typically symmetrical in shape. If you were to draw a line through the middle of a mole, the two halves should roughly match.
Typically a non-cancerous mole will have smooth, even borders. Melanoma lesions usually have irregular borders that are difficult to define.
A non-cancerous mole is commonly a single shade of brown or tan. If there is a presence of more than one color or uneven distribution of color this can be a warning sign of melanoma. Melanoma can occur in a variety of colors including brown, black, red, blue, or purple. These spots can be flat or raised and can bleed easily. Non-melanoma skin cancer, also known as basal and squamous cell carcinoma, typically appears as small, pearly, or pale bumps or as dark red patches that can be raised, flat or scaly in texture.
Non-cancerous moles are typically smaller than malignant ones. If its diameter is greater than a pencil eraser, it may be a sign that it is growing or changing. Larger moles that have been stable for an extended period of time are not typically cause for concern; though continued observation is recommended.
The evolution of a mole is the most important factor to consider when performing a self-skin check. This is why monthly checks are so important. If you know what is normal, you will easily be able to tell if it has grown, or evolved, overtime.
Remember, early detection saves lives and a simple, yearly in-office skin screening with your local board-certified Forefront Dermatologist can truly mean the difference between life and death. Find a dermatologist near you and schedule your annual skin cancer exam today.