As the body’s largest organ, skin should get as much care and medical
attention as other parts of the body – but it often doesn’t.
Of all cancers, skin cancer is the most common, with more than 5.4 million
cases treated every year in the United States. It is also the easiest
cancer to treat, if diagnosed early. When allowed to progress, though,
skin cancer can lead to disfigurement and death. With regular self-examination
and physical exams performed by a doctor, people can
detect skin anomalies earlier and live longer, better lives.
“Ideally, a self-examination should be done once a month to spot
changes in the skin,” says
Hong Nguyen, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at
Mission Heritage Medical Group.
“It would be a good idea to start off with a full-body exam at the
doctor’s office to establish that all existing moles, freckles and
spots are normal, and get them treated if they aren’t.”
Here are some types of skin growths to become familiar with, and some
to watch out for.
Non-cancerous types of skin growths
There are many kinds of non-cancerous skin growths, such as benign tumors,
and they do not usually cause serious problems. However as with any skin
condition, if lumps, bumps, spots or sores appear to be growing or changing,
consult a doctor so they can be identified and treated if necessary.
Moles are nearly always harmless. A normal mole can be flat, raised, oval or
round, and tends to be an evenly-colored brown, tan or black. Most people
have moles, and unless the color, shape or texture changes, they should
not be a source of worry.
Warts are benign growths caused by infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV),
and look like rough, flesh-colored lumps or bumps. While not a serious
condition, warts can be spread via skin contact.
Seborrheic keratosis is a non-cancerous type of skin growth that commonly appears on the face,
chest, back or shoulders. They often appear as tan, brown or black raised
spots with a waxy texture or rough surface. They are not contagious, and
no treatment is medically necessary.
Cancerous types of skin growths
There are many types of skin cancer, each of which can look different
on the skin.
Basal cell carcinoma accounts for about 8 out of 10 of all skin cancers. These usually develop on areas exposed to the sun, especially the face,
head and neck, but they can occur anywhere on the body.
Basal cell cancers can be flat or raised, shiny or opaque, and may have
one or more abnormal blood vessels visible. They can appear as pale, pink
or red areas, with blue, brown, or black variations. Larger basal cell
carcinomas may have oozing or crusted areas. Some cancers have translucent
bumps that may bleed easily.
Squamous cell carcinoma accounts for most of the other 20 percent of skin cancers. They can start
out as actinic keratoses (AKs), small, scaly pre-cancerous skin patches
that cannot easily be distinguished from true cancers. For this reason,
a doctor may recommend treating an AK to be on the safe side.
Squamous cell carcinomas are typically found on sun-exposed areas such
as the face, lips, ears, neck and the backs of hands. They can appear
as flat reddish or brownish patches, and often have a scaly or crusty
texture. They tend to grow slowly and can usually be treated successfully
if found early.
Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, with almost 80,000 new cases diagnosed
every year. Melanoma accounts for less than 1 percent of all skin cancer
cases, but is responsible for the vast majority of skin cancer deaths.
Use the “ABCDE rule” to look for common signs of melanoma:
Asymmetry: One side of a mole doesn’t match the other
Border: The edges are irregular, ragged or indistinct
Color: The color is not uniform and may have patches of brown, black, white,
red or blue.
Diameter: The spot is larger than the diameter of a pencil eraser (about
Evolving: The mole is changing in size, shape or color
Not all melanomas fall into exact categories, however, so make a note of
any of the following and discuss with your doctor:
- New spots
- Spots that look different than others on the body
- Swelling or redness outside the borders of a mole
- Any sore that doesn’t heal
- Itching or pain
- Scaly, bleeding or oozing
“Both cancerous and non-cancerous skin growths can look similar to
each other, so when in doubt, get it checked,” cautions Dr. Nguyen.
“See a doctor if you have any suspicious lumps, bumps, sores or
spots that are new or changing. When found and removed early, skin cancers
can almost always be resolved with good, long-term results.
“If it turns out that skin cancer is diagnosed, a specialist can
explain the various treatment options and their common side effects. And
there is a wealth of information and services available to see patients
through treatment and after-care periods, so they can have the best quality
of life possible.”
To avoid skin cancer in the first place, one should adopt a complete
Keep covered up: wear long sleeves, a wide-brimmed hat and UV-blocking
sunglasses. Use the best quality sunscreen available -- and enjoy the
outdoors in the shade.
Learn more about
Dr. Nguyen. Learn more about
Mission Heritage Medical Group.
Have you ever had an unusual skin growth? Share your story below.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.