What to look out for to detect skin cancer early?
Knowing the different types of skin cancer is important. Common skin cancers can be divided in 2 groups: MELANOMA skin cancers and NON-MELANOMA skin cancers.
MELANOMA skin cancers are derived from the pigment cells in the skin and are usually brownish/blackish/bluish due to the pigment. A mole (medical term = naevus) has a brownish dot like appearance that can be seen on skin and is a collection of harmless pigment cells. A melanoma skin cancer can arise within a harmless existing mole or arise de novo. Some moles are present at birth and others usually develop in the first 30 years of life (and in pregnancy). AS A GENERAL RULE, it is best to visit a dermatologist if you have noticed a new brown/black/blue/dark lesion on your skin after the age of 30 or when you have noticed that any of your pre-existing moles have changed in appearance!
Dermatologists have a sort of magic lens (dermatoscope) which gives extra information to determine whether the mole/pigmented lesion looks suspicious and needs to be removed. We are particularly looking for the ‘ugly duck 🦆 ‘ on your skin; the one that is larger, darker, more irregular and more asymmetrical compared to the others. If you are not sure about a mole, better to get it checked by a dermatologist. Prevention is better than cure..
NON-MELANOMA skin cancers (2 types : basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma) are more common but thankfully less serious than melanoma skin cancers.
As they do not originate from the pigment cells but from the cells in the outermost layer of the skin, they are not necessary brown. The non-melanoma cancers can present very differently; a slow growing skin-coloured or discoloured lump or patch, a crusted lesion, a shiny pink pimple, or a non-healing wound. Though generally appearing on sun-exposed skin (the face, ears, hands, forearms, scalp) it can appear elsewhere. Any new lesion on your skin that has not healed within 4 weeks should be evaluated. Whilst it is unlikely to be skin cancer, better to be safe than sorry.
Keep calm, wear sunscreen and have your moles checked.