Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, and it’s easy to overlook. We’re all told to inspect our skin regularly for moles, bumps, and discolorations, and go to the doctor if we suspect anything out of the ordinary. Sound advice. But how do you know what “out of the ordinary” means? It’s not always easy to tell, and it does help to have a family member or friend serve as a second set of eyes on moles, skin tags, and bumps. Here are some tips and pictures to help you decide when it’s time for a trip to the doctor. A good website to visit is (opens in a new tab) There are three types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. The first two are relatively easy to cure, but melanoma is much more difficult to treat. The carcinomas are typically found on skin that has been exposed to the sun, while melanoma may occur on any skin surface. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell whether a bump or mole needs to be checked by a doctor, but there are several telltale signs. The following information is from the National Cancer Institute website, cancer.gov: Often the first sign of melanoma is a change in the shape, color, size, or feel of an existing mole. Melanoma may also appear as a new mole. Thinking of “ABCDE” can help you remember what to look for:
- Asymmetry: The shape of one half does not match the other half.
- Border that is irregular: The edges are often ragged, notched, or blurred in outline. The pigment may spread into the surrounding skin.
- Color that is uneven: Shades of black, brown, and tan may be present. Areas of white, gray, red, pink, or blue may also be seen.
- Diameter: There is a change in size, usually an increase. Melanomas can be tiny, but most are larger than the size of a pea (larger than 6 millimeters or about 1/4 inch).
- Evolving: The mole has changed over the past few weeks or months.
Melanomas can vary greatly in how they look. Many show all of the ABCDE features. However, some may show changes or abnormal areas in only one or two of the ABCDE features. In more advanced melanoma, the texture of the mole may change. The skin on the surface may break down and look scraped. It may become hard or lumpy. The surface may ooze or bleed. Sometimes the melanoma is itchy, tender, or painful. The National Cancer Institute recommends that when you do a skin self-exam, take your time and inspect every inch of your skin, looking for anything new:
- A new mole (that looks different from your other moles)
- A new red or darker color flaky patch that may be a little raised
- A new flesh-colored firm bump
- A change in the size, shape, color, or feel of a mole
- A sore that doesn't heal