Get Skin Cancer Savvy

Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers, with more than two million cases diagnosed in the US each year. The good news? Most skin cancers are relatively easily to treat when detected early. Protect yourself with the help of these skin cancer warning signs.

Woman having mole removed

Understanding skin cancer

There are two main types of skin cancers, including basal and squamous cell skin cancers and melanomas:

  • Basal and squamous cell skin cancers are the most common form of skin cancer, and are non-melanoma.
  • Melanomas are cancers that develop from melanocytes (the cells that produce our skin color). According to the American Cancer Society (ACS) Melanoma accounts for less than 5% of skin cancers, and is also the cause of most skin cancer deaths. Thankfully, it's usually curable when detected in its early stages.

Most skin cancers are triggered by too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays, be it from natural sunlight or tanning booths. Luckily, most skin cancers are easy to recognize and slow-growing.

Know your ABCs

St Joseph Hospital dermatologist Dr Matthew Goodman recommends checking your entire body for moles or suspicious spots at last once a year. "Melanoma can be anywhere; between your toes, under your tongue, or in and around your private areas. It's not limited to your arms, legs and head," he said.

Dr Goodman recommends looking for mole or skin pigment spots that fit into the "ABCDE" criteria:

1A is for Asymmetry

"When looking at the spots or moles, you want to make sure that if you were to cut it in half, it would be a mirror image," Dr Goodman said.

2B is for Border

"Any spot or mole that has an irregular, scalloped or poorly defined border could be a potential risk," said Dr Goodman.

3C is for Coloration

"You want your mole to be a solid color," Dr Goodman explained. "It shouldn't vary in color from one area to another or have different shades of color. Different shades of browns, blues, reds, whites and blacks are usually a cause for concern."

4D is for Diameter

"Ideally, you want any mole or pigmented spot to be smaller than the size of a pencil eraser," Dr Goodman said. "Melanoma is usually greater than six millimeters across (about a quarter inch) when it's found and diagnosed, but it can also be smaller.

5E is for Evolution

"If a mole or spot changes in size, shape and color over any given amount of time, you should consult a physician," Dr Goodman advised.

Other warning signs

Pink bumps -- Dr Goodman advises patients be aware of any pink bumps that last more than four weeks. "These pink bumps often are mistaken for pimples in their early stages, but may actually be basal or squamous cell carcinoma."

Visible sores -- According to the ACS Web site, skin cancers may look like sores that don't quite heal. For example, a long-lasting sore in the mouth could be a sign of oral cancer. Sores on the penis or vagina can also be signs of the early stages of cancer. Be sure to have any sores checked out immediately by a doctor, especially if you smoke, chew tobacco or heavily consume alcohol.

Change in sensation -- Take note of any moles, warts or freckles that feel itchy, tender or painful.

Refer to this body mole map from the American Academy of Dermatology to help guide you through your skin evaluation.

Exper tips

Are you protecting your kids from skin cancer?
Take our quiz to find out.

More on skin cancer



Comments on "Skin cancer: 5 Warning signs"

Andrea October 21, 2013 | 7:27 AM

@ Myia You are never too young to develop any sort of cancer. If you have moles/freckles that you are concerned about you should have your doctor refer you to a dermatologist right away. I have TONS of moles on my back and I have them checked yearly unless I feel something has changed with them. I also wear high UV protection sunscreen in the summer and try to limit being outside during the hottest points of the day. Hope that helps!!

Myia Barrett June 17, 2013 | 10:40 PM

I have this mole looking object on the side of my second toe...its been there for almost a year or even more and it keeps getting darker and just 13 and im way to young to develope Skin Cancer...can you help please?

Todd Phillips June 02, 2013 | 10:17 AM

I had a large melanoma spot behind my ear removed.. Ever since I feel tingles ,sharp pain in that spot. Will it come back... I have 4 spots on my left arm non-melonoma still yo be removed

Doris L. Bachman February 15, 2011 | 10:59 PM

Do you have any melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma screening programs at St. Joseph Hospital for those of prone to skin cancer. In my case to date it has been atypical squamous cell carcinoma, reoccurring. This has been exacerbated with weekly Enbrel injections for ankylosing spondylitis which makes it grow faster. It is hard to keep up with it all.

+ Add Comment

(required - not published)