Skin cancers are the most common forms of the disease in America, making up about half of all new cases every year. The head and neck can be particularly vulnerable due to their frequent exposure to the ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun.
At Lawrence Otolaryngology Associates, we help our patients recognize head and neck cancers in the early stages, when chances for successful treatment are the best. Skin cancer is very survivable, and early detection improves your chances for a successful outcome.
Types and signs of skin cancer
There are three dominant types of skin cancer, each with their own signs.
The most aggressive skin cancer is also the rarest, fortunately. Melanoma can be hard to control and spreads most easily through the body, making it the most deadly form of the disease.
Occurring anywhere on the body, including places that normally don’t receive sun exposure, melanoma can develop from an existing mole, but it most often occurs in areas of otherwise normal skin.
Melanoma can appear as a dark brown spot with an irregular shape and color. These colors can include blue, black, pink, red, or white. When a melanoma grows on a mole, you’ll notice the shape and appearance of the mole changing over time. A melanoma lesion can create sensations of burning, itchiness, and pain.
Squamous cell carcinoma
More common but less aggressive than melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma usually occurs in places that receive regular UV exposure. Lesions may appear as red nodules with a firm texture or as scab-like wounds with a crusty surface.
Squamous cell carcinomas also carry a risk of spreading within the body, though this doesn’t occur as frequently as with melanoma.
Basal cell carcinoma
The most common form of skin cancer is also the least aggressive. The least likely to spread, basal cell carcinoma also forms most often on sun-exposed skin, particularly the head and neck. Lesions can take the form of waxy or pearl-like bumps, scab-like sores that heal and return, or flat areas of normal or brown color that resemble scars.
Recognizing signs of skin cancer
Any changes to your skin including, but not limited to, color, size, shape, or consistency should be medically assessed for cancerous changes. While the ABCDE method specifically targets melanoma, it’s a useful guide for self-checks for all types of skin cancer.
- Asymmetrical: A lesion of irregular shape with parts that appear different from each other and surrounding skin
- Border: Regular moles usually have a smooth border so jagged or irregular edges may indicate cancer
- Color: Cancerous lesions can contain multiple colors or varying shades of a single color
- Diameter: Moles or lesions more than a quarter-inch in diameter may be suspicious, particularly if the size is increasing
- Evolving: Any changes in your skin or to existing moles may indicate cancerous activity
Sores on your face or neck that don’t heal or that reappear with no obvious reason are another sign that you need your skin medically assessed by one of the head and neck specialists at Lawrence Otolaryngology Associates.
Schedule a skin exam by calling our nearest office in Lawrence or Ottawa. It’s always better to be safe than sorry with skin cancer, so call today.