At some point in our lives, most of us will wonder whether that new spot on our skin is just a mole or skin cancer. While, in most cases, a mole is just a mole, the unfortunate truth is that most skin cancers remain undetected for too long, leading to more severe issues. Admittedly, it can be tricky to differentiate a normal mole from a problematic one! However, since early detection and treatment make a big difference, it’s wise to learn how to the difference now.
Find out what to watch for, what risk factors to be aware of, and how to care for your skin if you are dealing with the effects of cancer treatment, keep on reading.
Warning Signs For Your Mole
Some people may assume that moles are a natural result of the ageing process: while this may be true for some, it still indicates a need for caution and regular check-ins with your doctor. Childhood moles often grow with the child; but beyond age 21, any new moles that appear should be checked by a doctor.
If you do notice new moles developing, there’s no need to panic, but it does warrant increased vigilance. Learn to know your skin!
Consult a doctor if any of these warning signs occur:
- A mole changes in size or shape
- A mole changes colour, density, or texture
- A mole that is sore or that bleeds or itches regularly
Risk Factors For Skin Cancers
Before you start searching for skin cancer pictures online, it’s essential to understand what causes skin cancer, and why we should be concerned in the first place. Skin cancer from moles is referred to as melanoma, and it is a particularly dangerous form of skin cancer. There are several types of melanoma, and though it is commonly linked with moles, it can even be found on typically-appearing skin. Doctors have even discovered skin cancer in the nose and under toenails. While most melanomas start superficially, they can go deeper into the body if untreated.
Understanding key preventative tactics is vital to a reduction in cancer rates. To help determine your risk when it comes to skin cancer, consider the following circumstances.
Factors That Can Heighten Skin Cancer Risk
- Family History – As with many cancers, genetics plays a vital role. A heightened risk of melanoma can be passed down through the generations in your genes. If you have a history of familial melanoma, doctors recommend that you start regular skin examinations in your 30s.
- Sun Exposure – If you’ve experienced numerous sunburns over the course of your life, and if you burn easily, you are at an increased risk. While the pain of a sunburn is certainly irritating, its adverse effects are far more than skin deep. Sunburns speed up the skin’s ageing process, and the sun is a leading cause of skin cancers. Fortunately, sunburns are largely preventable.
- Fair Skin/Eyes/Hair – There are six different skin types (from ultra fair to dark), and knowing where you fall on the spectrum will help you determine your level of risk so that you can take the necessary precautions. Skin types are classified according to the amount of pigment present, and the skin’s reaction to sun exposure. Melanin is a protective pigment found in skin, and the heightened concentration of melanin in dark skin helps to keep it from burning. Melanin also affects the colour of our eyes, and lighter eye colour is an indication of low melanin levels. For example, individuals with blue eyes have very little melanin.
Many people mistakenly assume that if they tan rather than burn, they are not as risk. In actuality, UV exposure will raise your cancer risk even if your skin appears undamaged. Even individuals with very dark skin can develop skin cancer as a result of exposure.
- Freckles – While harmless, freckles are a type of sun damage. They are caused by an increase in melanin production, which is your skin’s response to sun exposure. Darker, larger freckles that appear after a sunburn (particularly if they’re on the shoulders and chest) can indicate a form of skin damage associated with cancer. If a freckle ever hurts or itches, it may actually be a type of skin cancer on the face. Freckled individuals should take extra care to contact a doctor if they see any changes in their skin, since issues can be harder to spot on a freckled surface.
- Photosensitivity – Photosensitivity inhibits your skin’s natural defences against UV rays, thus increasing your risk of skin cancer. This condition can develop as a reaction to excessive UV radiation (e.g. from a tanning bed). It can also be linked to medication; certain drugs (taken orally or topically) can be activated by exposure to sunlight. This will damage the skin, causing redness and rashes. Some skincare products might contain ingredients that may heighten sensitivity to UV rays, causing a reaction wherever applied. Because ingredients such as retinol, glycolic acid and peroxides help slough off the outer layer of skin, they can also increase photosensitivity (thereby increasing your risk of long-term UV damage).
- Atypical Moles – Though a mole may not be cancerous, the presence of a large number of atypical moles indicates a heightened risk of developing melanoma. Referred to as dysplastic nevi, an atypical mole will have irregular features under a microscope. The appearance of these moles may vary, and they can appear anywhere on the body.
Many skin irregularities are harmless, and can even be removed by a medical skincare specialist. However, in other cases, there may be a legitimate cause for concern. To detect irregularities — and other potential skin cancer symptoms — it’s essential to conduct regular self-exams.
While paying close attention to areas that are regularly exposed to the sun, don’t forget that melanomas can appear anywhere on the body. If your doctor is concerned about a specific mole, they will likely refer you to an oncologist.
What’s An Oncologist?
Oncology is the prevention, study, and treatment of cancer. Accordingly, an oncologist is a medical professional who specializes in cancer treatment—more specifically, the treatment of tumours. If an oncologist ultimately diagnoses you with skin cancer, remember that an early diagnosis gives you an excellent chance of recovery.
Caring For Your Skin During Treatment
The good news is that skin cancer can often be cured, especially if it is caught in the crucial early stages. If you have any of the risk factors above, doctors recommend a head-to-toe personal check-in once a month. Watch for any new moles, and don’t hesitate to contact your doctor with any questions or concerns.
Any cancer treatment can make your skin extremely sensitive and result in further damage. However, with proper skincare treatments for delicate skin during cancer treatments, the damage can often be minimalized or even prevented outright. Consult with a specialist trained in oncology skincare for a personalized skincare program for your specific needs.
Call (416) 226-0744 with any questions about how to adjust your skincare routine during cancer treatment. Located in Toronto, the experts at Laser Essential & Skin Care will take care of your skin, so that you can take care of you.