Spot a “spot” on your skin and not sure what it is? Sometimes, discolored patches, blotches, bumps or marks show up—and they’re nothing. Other times, they can be an indication of skin cancer. It’s important that everyone brushes up on some basic dermatology in order to determine whether skin issues should be evaluated by dermatologist. When in doubt, always consult with your healthcare provider.
Here are some of the most common types of spots, moles, and other irregularities that you shoulld know about.
1. Malignant Melanoma
Malignant melanomas are cancerous skin growths. If not found and removed early enough, the cancer can spread to other parts of your body with potentially fatal results. According to the American Cancer Society, malignant melanoma is on rise in children and teens. Being aware of the following five visual characteristics of a malignant melanoma can help you distinguish a potentially deadly mole from a normal, harmless mole. Know your ABCDEs!
Asymmetry: To determine asymmetry, draw an imaginary line down the center of a mole. If it’s asymmetrical, the two sides won’t match in size or shape. Cancer cells grow faster than healthy cells, so if a mole is cancerous, one side may be growing more rapidly than the other.
Border irregularity: If the edges of the mole appear blurred, or if one side has ragged edges rather than smooth edges, this could indicate a malignant melanoma.
Color: A malignant melanoma is often two-toned or multicolored. It may appear in shades of brown, black, tan, red or white.
Diameter: If a mole measures 6 millimeters (a little less than ¼ inch) across – about the size of a pencil eraser in diameter – it could be a sign of malignant melanoma.
Evolving: Any mole should be further evaluated if it changes in size over time, begins to bleed, oozes fluid or becomes red or inflamed.
Despite these guidelines, a mole doesn’t have to look like a gnarly, weeping skin lesion in order to be a malignant melanoma. In fact, it can often look like no more than a larger-than-average freckle. If you have any mole or spot that you’re suspicious of, have it checked by a dermatologist. It could save your life!
2. Basal Cell Carcinoma
This skin cancer is benign –which means it’s non-cancerous and won’t spread to the rest of your body with cancer cells. But it can be locally invasive. For instance, a basal cell cancer near your eye could invade the structure of your eye and permanently damage it. It’s important to have basal cell tumors removed as early as possible to avoid the damage they might cause to the tissues they invade.
Basal cell carcinomas are often found on skin that’s typically exposed to a lot of sun, such as on the face, ears, hands and chest. But they can also be found elsewhere, if other areas of the body are exposed to high levels of sun. A basal cell carcinoma is characterized by a small shiny bump that can be skin-colored, white, pink, red, brown or black. Basal cell cancer can become a scaly patch, and it can also weep or resemble a sore or skin irritation. It may be itchy, painful or completely painless. Basal cell cancers grow slowly, and they often change from appearing to be an open sore to healing over, and then becoming irritated again. Any skin spot that doesn’t heal should be checked by your dermatologist.
3. Cherry Hemangioma
This is a benign blood vessel tumor consisting of small, reddish raised spots. In this context, the word “tumor” is no cause for alarm; these harmless spots are found on many people, and they’re usually associated with a genetic predisposition. If they bother you, you can have your dermatologist remove them.
4. Actinic Keratosis
Usually found in older people who have had lots of sun exposure, these rough, scaly patches of skin are considered precancerous lesions, but not all of them will turn into skin cancer. They’re often removed by a dermatologist, or your doctor can prescribe a cream that sloughs away the top layers of skin in order to remove the sun-damaged skin.
5. Seborrheic keratosis
These benign skin spots, genetic in origin, usually appear in people in middle to late age. They’re characterized by raised, scaly, hard, dark or light skin spots – what I called “barnacles” on the skin – and some are flat and resemble melted wax. Remember that these spots do not progress toward cancer. If you don’t like the way they look, your dermatologist can remove them.