It’s hard to think about how much/often we have to protect and care for our skin. Given that we are covered in it, that’s a lot of square footage to think about all at once!
The obvious has been stated and driven into our brains for the last few years- we’ve gotta wear sunblock. Whether you believe in climate change or not, the sun is getting hotter and therefore closer to our Earth’s atmosphere. All that Vitamin D is good, in certain doses, but too much exposure and you can actually damage your skin.
But it’s gone a little past simple sun damage, not wearing sunscreen can make it easier for skin cancer cells to develop. Most cancers have some pretty obvious signs like lumps and bumps, tenderness, pain or sickness, but skin cancer is a bit sneakier.
According to the US National Library of Medicine:
“Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. The two most common types are basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer. They usually form on the head, face, neck, hands, and arms. Another type of skin cancer, melanoma, is more dangerous but less common.”
When it comes to the symptoms of skin cancer, it’s not just a new mole that should alarm us. Skin cancer is slow-growing and often free of glaring warning signs.
Those “invisible” signs can make early detection tricky. And the other obvious thing that we know about cancer- early detection can save lives.
But don’t worry because there are a few things that you can keep an eye out for when it comes to skin cancer. These indicators let you know if a trip to the doctor might be a good idea.
Now, don’t go looking on WebMD, because even a headache on their database shows up as CANCER. In no way do these signs and symptoms automatically mean cancer – but it’s always good to check things out if you have suspicions- just don’t check on WebMD.
Let’s start with the basics. There is an important distinction between melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer. While melanoma is the most widely known and aggressive form of skin cancer, it’s actually the rarest type. Non-melanoma skin cancers, such as squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma, are the most common forms of skin cancer.
Melanoma begins in cells known as, “melanocytes cells”, which are located in the deepest layer of skin, also known as the hypodermic or subcutaneous tissue. Non-melanoma cancers are found in the upper and middle layers of skin, called the epidermis and dermis.
And yes, Melanoma is considered the most dangerous form of skin cancer as it tends to spread to other areas of the body, including our organs. Non-melanoma skin cancers are generally considered less dangerous because they rarely spread and can usually be treated with a simple surgery, like removing a mole.
Now, moving on to those pesky symptoms…unexplained joint pain. Because Melanoma can spread to our organs, this includes our joints and muscles. If you feel like you have arthritis, but no history of it in your family- it could be Melanoma.
Another symptom that is true throughout different sorts of cancer are odd-shaped bumps and lumps. According to the Mayo Clinic, a “Lump or area of thickening that can be felt under the skin,” should be looked at immediately.
Doctors advise to check for lumps and bumps on your neck, groin, and armpits — these signs may indicate that skin cancer has spread to your lymph nodes. Check with your doctor if any suspicious bumps appear in those areas.
Another symptom is unexplained, irritable itching, in one or many parts of your body. If you’re constantly itching and you don’t own any pets that could attract fleas, get that checked out.
Bringing it back to Melanoma spreading to our organs- it can spread to our livers, causing abdominal pain. If the cancer has already affected the liver, you may feel pain in the upper right quadrant of your abdomen.
That being said, abdominal pain is pretty normal, so don’t freak out; just try to keep track of whether it’s accompanied by any other symptoms. Like, if it’s your time of the month you probably have nothing to worry about.
All sorts of cancers can cause small symptoms such as trouble breathing or blurred vision. Ask your doctor about any difficulty breathing, a persistent cough, hoarseness, or trouble swallowing.
The cells that I mentioned earlier that house Melanoma, Melanocytes, can also be found in the eyes. So if the cancer spreads to your eye cells, it can cause blurry vision.
If your body is randomly numb all the time and you haven’t been sitting in the same position for a while, don’t ignore it. If Melanoma manages to spread to the nerves, you may experience numbness.
As far as strange-looking/feeling moles, dermatologists claim that Melanoma can be classified using the ABCDE method. The Melanoma Research Foundation created this method to show you which signs to look out for.
A – Asymmetrical Shape
Melanoma lesions are often irregular, or not symmetrical, in shape. Benign moles are usually symmetrical.
B – Border
Typically, non-cancerous moles have smooth, even borders. Melanoma lesions usually have irregular borders that are difficult to define.
C – Color
The presence of more than one color (blue, black, brown, tan, etc.) or the uneven distribution of color can sometimes be a warning sign of melanoma. Benign moles are usually a single shade of brown or tan.
D – Diameter
Melanoma lesions are often greater than 6 millimeters in diameter (approximately the size of a pencil eraser).
E – Evolution
The evolution of your mole(s) has become the most important factor to consider when it comes to diagnosing a melanoma. Knowing what is normal for YOU could save your life. If a mole has gone through recent changes in color and/or size, bring it to the attention of a dermatologist immediately.
If you notice that maybe all these symptoms are things that have been bothering you more than usual lately- get a doctor’s appointment. But remember, mind over body, don’t freak yourself out until you find out whether or not you have skin cancer.