Nonmelanoma skin cancer may cause the following symptoms:
- Spots or bumps that grow over time (a few months to a year or two) or that appear as a sore that does not heal within three months.
- Basal cell carcinomas may appear as flat, firm, pale areas or small, raised, translucent, pink or red, shiny, waxy areas with visible blood vessels or depressed center areas that bleed when slightly injured.
- Large basal cell carcinomas have oozing, crusty areas.
- Squamous cell carcinomas may look like small lumps with an uneven, rough surface or flat reddish patch that slowly grows.
Melanoma skin cancer may appear as
- Spots, sores, lumps, blemishes or markings on the skin that change in shape, size or color.
- Skin may become reddish, crusty or scaly.
- Skin may ooze, bleed or swell or may feel painful, scratchy or tender.
Causes and Risk Factors
The following factors increase your risk of getting skin cancer:
Frequent exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. Sunlight is the main source of this exposure. Tanning lamps and tanning booths are other sources of UV radiation.
Fair skin. Caucasians are 20 times more likely to develop skin cancer than African Americans. Fair-skinned individuals with red or blonde hair and skin that freckles or burns easily are also at greater risk.
50 years or older. Half of all melanoma cases occur in this age group. However, some melanoma cases also occur in people age 20 to 30 years. In fact, the most common cancer among people under 30 years old is melanoma.
Family history. Individuals whose immediate relatives (mother, father, sister, brother, child) have been diagnosed with melanoma are considered at high risk. About 10% of melanoma cases show a family history of the disease.
Reduced immunity. Individuals who have received medications that suppress the immune system, such as organ transplant recipients, are more likely to develop melanoma.
Male gender. Men are two times more likely than women to develop basal cell carcinoma and three times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma.
Exposure to chemicals. Arsenic (an ingredient in pesticides), paraffin, industrial tar, coal and certain types of oil may increase risk.
Exposure to radiation. Individuals who have undergone radiation treatment are at risk to develop nonmelanoma skin cancer in the irradiated area.
Severe skin injury. Scarring from burns, bone infections and other severe inflammatory skin diseases are risk factors.
Psoriasis treatment. Patients receiving psoralen and UV light treatments (PUVA) may be at risk.
Most people have moles, which are generally harmless. However, certain types can change in appearance, color or size and develop into melanoma. To distinguish between a normal mole and a melanoma, use the ABCD rule:
Asymmetry - Half the mole looks different from the other half
Border - The edges of the mole are irregular or ragged
Color - Moles are non-uniform in color, and
Diameter - Normal moles are typically smaller than six millimeters (a quarter inch) in diameter. Melanomas are generally bigger, although recently doctors have seen melanomas between three and six millimeters in diameter.