Spotting the Signs of Skin Cancer
- Jo Lambert, a 43-year-old mom of five who claims a growth on her scalp that was skin cancer was dismissed by doctors as “nothing to worry about.”
- She was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma, a highly curable but still serious form of skin cancer.
- BCC is the most common form of skin cancer and tends to be slow-growing. It’s often overlooked as a pimple or skin tag.
- BCC growths can look like open sores, red patches, pink growths, shiny bumps, scars or growths with slightly elevated, rolled edges and/or a central indentation. These spots may ooze, crust, itch or bleed.
- We can get sun damage at any time throughout the year, even in the cold, wintry months. Our experts recommend skin protection all year round.
Jo Lambert, a 43-year-old mom of five who says a growth on her scalp was initially dismissed by medical personnel as “nothing to worry about,” is sharing her skin cancer story to help others avoid the experience she had She was diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma six years ago after months of wondering whether the lesion on her head was cancer, and important reminder to know how to spot the signs of skin cancer — including the most dangerous kind — so you can help catch it early.Read More
She felt as if the doctor was acting like she was “being vain and a bit stupid for asking.” And this is a feeling we here people describe all too often.
Lambert, who was pregnant at the time with her fifth child, said the lump began as flat and would scab up after she touched it, describing it as similar to a blister.
It wasn’t until about six weeks after giving birth that she was referred to a plastic surgeon, who decided to remove the mass — which was about 1 inch in diameter on Lambert’s surgery date.
She only learned it was actually skin cancer on the day of her surgery.
Following her surgery, she informed her husband, “They’ve just cut a massive hole in my head, given me a skin graft and now I look like I’d been shot in the head.”
“It left a massive dent in my head. We laugh in our house and say we can put a GoPro in my head because it’s quite deep,” Lambert said of the surgical procedure, trying to find the humor in her new reality.
Despite her initial disbelief of what had happened to her, Lamber is thankful she followed her “gut instinct” and pushed for answers.
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Now the mom, who learned it was basal cell carcinoma — a highly curable but still serious form of skin cancer — weeks after her surgery, is urging others to be “more vigilant” and check their bodies for any abnormalities.
She concluded, “If you’re concerned go back and if you don’t like what you hear, keep returning because at the end of the day if you know that it’s not normal and doesn’t feel right, then generally it’s not, is it?”
What Does Basal Cell Carcinoma Look Like?
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is a form of highly curable skin cancer that causes a “lump, bump, or lesion to form on the outside layer of your skin,” where the skin is exposed to a lot of sun, as per the Cleveland Clinic. The lesion can appear to be “small, sometimes shiny bump or scaly flat patch on your skin that slowly grows over time.” This is why these types of lesions can be overlooked as a pimple or skin tag. In patients with a darker skin tone, approximately 50% of BCCs are pigmented (brown in color).
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The most common type of BCC is a nodular BCC, which appears as “a round pimple with visible blood vessels surrounding it.” More signs of BCC are:
- A lump that is slightly see-through and close to your normal skin color
- A lump that may be itchy or painful
- A lump that may form an open sore, which can ooze clear fluid or bleed with contact
If you happen to spot something abnormal or questionable on your skin, it should behoove you to reach out to your doctor. BCC signs can vary from person to person, so it’s necessary to seek medical advice when something seems off. You should always prioritize routine check-ups with your dermatologist and be weary for any skin changes in between visits.
BCC may be diagnosed through a skin biopsy, which is when a piece of the affected skin area is removed and examined under a microscope. Imaging tests are conducted if a doctor suspects the cancer has spread to a different area of the body – something that is rare for BCC.
While BCC lumps grow at a slow pace, they are still considered serious. If slow-growing BCC lumps are left untreated, they can increase in size and begin to take over deeper layers of the skin and tissues, like muscle and bone. Plus, BCC lumps can be painful and become ulcerated (become an open sore), which can cause bleeding and infection.
Meanwhile, the most dangerous form of skin cancer is called melanoma.
“Melanomas are the deadliest type of skin cancer because they have a tendency to spread to other parts of the body,” explains Dr. Anna Pavlick, a medical oncologist with Weill Cornell Medicine who specializes in treating skin cancer.
And the acronym ABCDE can you help know how to spot this kind forming:
- Asymmetrical moles: If you drew a line straight down the center of the mole, would the sides match?
- Borders: Is the mole irregular or jagged?
- Colors: Are there multiple distinct colors in the mole?
- Diameter: Is the mole larger than 6 millimeters (mm), about the size of a pencil head eraser?
- Evolution: Has the mole’s color, shape, or size changed over time?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, our experts say it’s time to see your dermatologist for a skin check. Other red flags to watch for are:
- A sore that doesn’t heal
- Color that spreads from the border of a spot to the skin around it
- Redness or swelling that goes beyond the area of a mole
- Itchiness, tenderness, or pain
- A change in the way the surface of a mole looks
- Scaliness, oozing, or blood
How Is Basal Cell Carcinoma Removed?
Here are some ways BCC may be removed from the body, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Be sure to talk to your doctor about the unique circumstances of you case, as they will be able to help you understand which options makes the most sense for you:
- Scraping off the cancerous lump and then burning the layer of skin with an electric needle
- Surgically removing the lump with a scalpel (Mohs surgery)
- Freezing the lump
- Chemotherapy (using medicine to kill the cancerous cells)
- Lasy therapy (using high-energy laser beams to remove the cancer)
Mohs Surgery: The Best Option For Melanoma
Reducing Your Skin Cancer Risk
Dr. Dendy Engelman, a board-certified dermatologic surgeon at Shafer Clinic Fifth Avenue, previously spoke with SurvivorNet about some things you can do every day to help minimize your risk of skin cancer.
- Avoid the sun during peak hours: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses to protect the tops of our heads, the tops of our ears and the delicate area around the eye.
- Wear at least SPF 30 sunscreen and make sure to reapply every two hours or after excessive sweating or swimming.
- Have yearly skin checks (with a professional) because it’s difficult to evaluate areas all over the body.
Avoid tanning beds. There are no “good” tanning beds, and they can significantly increase your risk of skin cancer.
- And remember that skin protection is equally important all year round.
“My patients ask me all the time, ‘Do I really need sunscreen every day, all year round?’ The answer is yes,” Dr. Engelman told SurvivorNet. “People think they only need sun protection when they’re in the bright, warm sunshine. But the reality is, we can get sun damage at any time throughout the year, even in the cold, wintry months. Think about when you go skiing. That’s a very high risk. Even though it’s cold, our skin should be protected.”
Protecting Your Skin From Cancer
Dr. Cecilia Larocca, a dermatologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, also spoke withSurvivornet in an earlier interview and suggests people use nothing less than SPF 30 and reapply it every two hours. Additionally, sunscreen should be a broad spectrum, says Dr. Larocca, meaning it covers both UVB and UVA rays.
According to Dr. Larocca, people usually only get about 50% of the SPF on the label. Therefore, if you’re using SPF 60, you’re actually nearing 30 SPF of protection. To be positive you’re receiving the right protection, Dr. Larocca also recommends using sunscreen every two hours and wearing protective clothing, like sunglasses or a hat.
Choose the Right Sunscreen and Use It Often
Contributing: SurvivorNet Staff
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