This can be a common question that pops up around this time of year when more people are getting outside and enjoying the Nebraska sun. There are two types of skin cancer melanoma and non-melanoma. Skin cancer is most often caused by repeated sun exposure and sunburn. Therefore, the more you are out in the sun the greater your chance of developing a form of skin cancer. Skin cancer can occur anywhere on the body but most commonly on the head, face, neck, arms and legs. These areas on your body are most prone to sun exposure.
The two main types of non-melanoma skin cancer are called basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. These can be red and swollen, pink, peeling, bleeding, scaly, or thick and crusty. Melanoma is a serious form of skin cancer. A good pneumonic to remember when looking for abnormal features of moles is A, B, C, D, E.
Asymmetry- one half does not look like the other half
Border- uneven edges
Color- different colors
Diameter- larger than the end of an eraser on a pencil
Evolution- size, color, and shape can change over time
There is a test for skin cancer called a biopsy. This means your provider will either remove or take a piece of the area of skin in question. It will then be sent off to a laboratory and another doctor will look at the cells from the skin sample under a microscope to look for cancer cells. The treatment for any skin cancer depends on the type, size, and location. Possible treatments include surgery, radiation therapy, creams, or it could be as simple as watching the area if the lesion was removed in its entirety and it is not invasive.
After treatment, follow up will be important. Your healthcare provider will need to continue to check for any reoccurrence on a regular basis. The timing of follow up again depends of the type and size of the skin cancer as well your comfort level. It is also a good idea for you to continue to check for any changes as well.
Skin cancer can be prevented by following some simple guidelines. Wear sunscreen and reapply it regularly. Stay out of the sun in the heat of the day when UV rays are more potent (10am-4pm). Cover up your skin with light, reflective clothing when possible. Do not use tanning beds. These simple rules will reduce your risk of all types of skin cancer.
Many moles and birthmarks are normal or a regular process of aging. If you have something that you think is abnormal or is just constantly on your mind do not hesitate to ask your healthcare provider.