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Skin Cancer: Symptoms and Early Signs

Skin cancer may present with any one or more of the following symptoms. Sometimes there may be no symptoms, and sometimes other disease conditions may cause similar symptoms. Therefore, further investigations may be required to confirm the diagnosis.

Following are some common signs and symptoms of skin cancers:

Basal Cell Carcinoma: The BCC usually presents as a superficial manifestation in the head and neck region, especially the area with exposure to the sun. The BCC may present as a wide range of skin lesions that may appear as:

  • Flat, firm, pale or yellow irregularly-shaped patches on the skin.
  • Pink/red/translucent, shiny/pearly bumps with blue/brown areas.
  • Raised reddish, itchy projections on the skin.
  • Open sores that may ooze or crust.
  • Round, pink protuberance with depressed central area.

Squamous cell carcinoma: The SCC usually presents as a superficial manifestation in the area with elevated exposure to the sun, especially on the face, lips, ears, neck, and dorsal surface of hands. The SCC may sometimes affect the genitalia or anorectal region. Most of these cancers appear as:

  • Rough or scaly red patches.
  • Round, pink protuberance with depressed central area.
  • Open sores that may ooze or crust.
  • Wart-like growths in genitalia or anorectal region.
  • Flat, firm, pale-yellow or different colored patches on the skin.

Melanoma: Melanoma may present as a new spot on the skin, with an abnormal size, shape, or color. Melanoma may also develop from an existing mole that starts behaving differently when such a conversion from a benign mole to melanoma takes place.

Thus, it is important to identify such changes for early diagnosis, and thus, better treatment of the disease. The ABCDE rule is generally adopted for identification of spots that are most likely to be melanoma, where A = asymmetry, B = border, C = color, D = diameter/size, and E = evolving.

According to this rule, the spots that are asymmetrical compared to other normal spots, have irregular border, have different color, are >/=6 mm in size, and have evolving characteristics (i.e., changing color, size, or shape with time) are most likely to be melanoma and should be checked right-away by an oncologist. Other signs and symptoms of melanoma may include:

  • Development of itchiness, tenderness, or pain.
  • A change in the mole behavior, such as scaliness, oozing or bleeding.
  • Redness or swelling in the nearby area of an existing mole.
  • Appearance of a pigmented mass near the main spot of concern.
  • Development of sore that doesn’t heal.

Blacks are most likely to develop melanoma on nails, soles, and palm.

Any one or more of the above symptoms if present may require further investigations.

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