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How to Spot a Skin Tumor

Maybe you’ve read the stories or heard on the news; a medical student spots a suspicious mole on the neck of a hockey coach while attending a game, or a nurse notices a mole on an actress while catching up on a favorite soap opera. Both turned out to be skin cancer, but because the tumors were caught in time, both stories had happy endings. While most of us aren’t medical professionals with training to identify suspicious moles, there are ways to spot a skin tumor at home.

Skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in America. There are 3 main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. The carcinoma cancers are caused by sun exposure and make up the majority of skin cancer cases. Generally they are easier to catch early on and respond well to treatment. Melanoma can also be caused by UV exposure, but is also due to genetic mutations in the skin cells. Melanoma only accounts for about 1% of skin cancers but can be more serious, especially if caught in later stages.

There are a range of risk factors that may put you at greater risk for skin cancer. Fair skin, light hair and light eyes all mean you have less melanin pigment in your body, which provides protection from harmful UV rays. A history of sunburns or sun exposure, such as tanning bed usage or living somewhere sunny, also put you at increased risk, as does a family history of skin cancer.

It’s important to check your skin regularly at home for signs that a mole or skin spot may become cancerous. Doing so allows you to monitor for changes in the shape, size or color of moles; these changes can indicate that something is wrong. Characteristics to note include:

  • Skin-colored bumps or lesions
  • Sores that bleed and repeatedly return after healing
  • Red moles
  • Moles with irregular borders or shapes that aren’t symmetrical
  • Multiple colors in the mole
  • Spots that are larger than a quarter inch
  • A mole that changes over time

While these aren’t necessarily signs of skin cancer, it’s important to follow up with a doctor over any concerns you have. A physician can discuss the characteristics of a suspicious mole with you and order biopsy testing if necessary. Caught early, skin cancer treatment is as straightforward as removing the mole.