What Does Skin Cancer Look Like?

Skin cancer occurs when cells in the skin mutate and grow out of control. If skin cancer isn't treated, the cancer can spread to other tissues of the body, including bone and lymph nodes. Skin cancer is perhaps the most common type of cancer in the US. It affects about 1 out of every 5 US citizens at some point in their lives, as noted by the Skin Cancer Foundation. There are a few different kinds of skin cancer and they can be hard to tell apart from one another. This article will tell different types of skin cancer with pictures.

What Does Skin Cancer Look Like?

Many kinds of skin cancer exist. Each looks a little bit different to the naked eye. The general rule to tell if a mole is cancerous is the ABCDE Rule.

Listed below are some different types of skin cancers you might commonly see. Because each skin cancer is different, you should have any type of bump, spot, lump, or sore looked at by a doctor or dermatologist to make sure that the lesion isn't a type of skin cancer.

1.   Actinic Keratosis

These are scaly and dry patches found mainly on the face, head, neck, arms, and the back of the hands. They are not cancer but are precancerous spots that can turn into cancer if left untreated. Most people with actinic keratoses have very light skin and get them after years and years of exposure to the sun. They are often seen in people who are older than 40 years old. It is a good idea to treat it because they can turn into squamous cell cancer if they are not removed.

2.   Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal cell cancer is the most common kind of skin cancer you can have. So what does skin cancer look like if you have such kind of skin cancer? It usually happens in light-skinned people but can occur in those who have dark skin. They look pearly and flesh-colored and can be a bump or a patch of skin that is pink in color. Basal cell cancer comes from years and years of exposure to the sun or exposure to indoor tanning devices. They are most commonly seen on the neck, arms, and head but have been seen on the abdomen, legs, and chest as well. While they do not metastasize, basal cell cancer can grow into the nearby tissue, growing into bones and nerves, resulting in disfigurement and tissue damage.

3.   Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell cancer is the second most commonly seen type of skin cancer. It is most commonly seen in light-skinned people but lesions can be seen in people who have darker skin. They look like a scaly patch, a lesion in the skin that will not heal, or like a firm, red bump on the surface of the skin. Squamous cell cancer is usually seen on skin that is frequently exposed to the sun, especially the outer ear, neck, face, chest, arms, the backs of the hands, and the back. The lesions often grow deep within the tissues if left untreated and can metastasize. It can cause the area to become disfigured, which is why it should be treated as early as possible once diagnosed.

4.   Melanoma

What does skin cancer look like if it is a melanoma? Melanoma isn't as common as many other types of skin cancer but it is extremely dangerous. It is related to about 75 percent of all deaths from skin cancer. It develops in skin cells that make the pigmented part of skin and has these features that you should look out for:

  • An asymmetrical shape
  • Irregularities of the border
  • A change in coloration of the skin
  • A wider diameter than a regular mole
  • An evolution of its size and shape

There are four common kinds of melanoma skin cancer, each of which looks a little bit different, as showed in the picture beside. 

  • Lentigo maligna melanoma. This type of melanoma involves flat, large and brown-colored sores that usually occur in the elderly population.
  • Superficial spreading melanoma. This is the most common melanoma. It is a flat lesion that is irregular, containing different colors of brown and black. It can occur in people of any age.
  • Acral lentiginous melanoma. This is not very common. It occurs underneath fingernails and toenails or on the soles of the feet or palms of the hands.
  • Nodular melanoma. This can be many colors, such as red-blue, black, or dark blue. It may also be colorless. It usually begins as a raised patch on sun exposed skin.

5.   Kaposi's Sarcoma

Now that you know "What does skin cancer look like?" you should also pay attention to Kaposi sarcoma. This is not technically a type of skin cancer, but it is a cancer that does occur on the skin, especially on the legs and on the feet. It mainly affects the cells lining the blood vessels near the skin and produces skin sores that are brown to red in color. This is a cancer that has its basis in the herpes virus. It is usually seen in AIDS patients.

How to Diagnose Skin Cancer

In order to make the diagnosis of skin cancer, your doctor may do any one of the following things:

  • Evaluate the skin. The doctor may do a thorough skin evaluation to see if there are any suspicious lesions that might represent skin cancer. If suspicious lesions are found, the doctor may have to do further testing to diagnose the disease.
  • Do a tissue biopsy. This is when the doctor excises a part of the skin to look at under the microscope. The suspicious lesion can be removed in its entirety or a portion during a tissue biopsy. The microscopic diagnosis is better than looking just at what does skin cancer look like to the naked eye.

After the diagnosis, you may want to know possible treatments for skin cancer. Then watch the video below.

Are You at Risk of Getting Skin Cancer?

After knowing "What dose skin cancer look like" you may want to know how it happens and what increase your risk.

The genesis of skin cancer involves mutations in the DNA found in the cells that make up the skin. These mutations result in a skin cell growing out of control. Some factors put you at higher risks, which include the following:

  • Light colored skin. Skin cancer can occur in a person of any skin color, but those who have more pigment in the skin are more likely to have their skin protected from the UV radiation emitted by the sun. If you have freckles, blue eyes, blond or red hair, or if you easily get sunburn, you are more likely to get skin cancer when compared to people who have darker colored skin.
  • Sunburn history. If you have had at least one case of blistering sunburn while you were younger, you have a higher risk of getting skin cancer as you age. You should try not to get sunburned as an adult.
  • Too much sun exposure. If you spend a lot of time out in the sun, you have an increased likelihood of getting skin cancer, particularly if you don't cover the skin with clothing or sun block. Exposure to tanning beds also increases your risk of getting skin cancer.
  • Sunny environment. If you live in a warm and sunny climate, you are more likely to get sun exposure and skin cancer. The same is true of high altitude climates where you are closer to the sun.
  • Positive family history. If you have a sibling or parent with skin cancer, your risk for the disease is greater.
  • Poor immune system. If your immune system is weak, you don't fight off cancer as well and have a higher risk of getting skin cancer. People with HIV disease, AIDS or who are taking an immunosuppressant drug will be at a higher risk.
  • Radiation exposure. Those who have received some kind of radioactive treatment for skin problems like acne and eczema have a greater chance of developing skin cancer. 
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