We all have that fear that one day we’ll wake up and find a strange spot on our skin that turns out to be cancerous. To think that any mole or spot is a sign of cancer may sound irrational, but it is based in reality.
One in every five Americans will develop skin cancer by the time they’re 70. That statistic alone is enough to scare just about anybody. Even though the chances of developing skin cancer at some point in our lives may be high, however, it doesn’t mean that we should go insane believing every spot is cancerous. We’ll help you to determine if any of your spots are potentially cancerous and what to do about it.
Contrary to popular belief, skin cancer doesn’t just appear as a spot or a mole. Depending on the type, like basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), warning signs often include red scaly patches of skin, tight and firm patches that are yellow, unusual growths, and open sores that ooze. Many of these are tale-tell signs that something is going on just below the surface. Yet, despite these scary symptoms, it’s the spots and moles that really freak us out. Why?
New spots or moles are typically a sign of melanoma, one of the deadliest and most aggressive types of skin cancer. WIth melanoma, time is truly of the essence. It must be treated before it metastasizes, or spreads. When melanoma begins to spread, it does so quickly and aggressively, making it almost impossible to treat successfully. This is another reason why we panic. Since we know that catching melanoma early means life or death, we freak out at the first mole we see.
So which spots are cancerous and which are not?
There is a very simple rule that you can follow to determine whether or not your mole is problematic. All you have to do is remember your ABCs, or “ABCDE”s to be exact.
It may sound crazy, but symmetry is absolutely important to have when it comes to moles. If you were to split your mole down the middle, would it look the same on both sides? If not, and you notice there is a major difference between the two sides, that mole may be cancerous.
The border of a mole says a lot. Every mole or spot ought to have defined borders, meaning you can clearly see where the sides of the mole end. Blurry, jagged, notched, and undefined borders may be a sign of skin cancer.
Remember what we said about symmetry? This applies to not just shape, but color, as well. A mole should have the same uniform color throughout. Blotches or spots of different colors may be a cause for alarm.
These spots should not be big! As a rule of thumb, moles or other spots should be no bigger than ¼ inches, or roughly the size of a pencil eraser. This can be tricky to determine as some cancerous moles are capable of being smaller than this size, but it is not common.
Changes to existing moles are a scary thing. Moles are meant to be a permanent part of our bodies. If it begins to change, whether that’s growing or changing color, then something is working to force the mole to adjust and adapt; typically this is cancer.
If you notice any of these features, you must call your doctor right away. Please keep in mind that you cannot (and should not attempt) to diagnose yourself. Even if you are giving yourself a full screening, you should still visit a professional once a year to get a medical opinion and possibly immediately catch anything concerning.