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Signs That You May Have Skin Cancer

Can you develop skin cancer? If you are over 40 and have experienced a lot of sun exposure, you likely can, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Don't worry, though—just be vigilant about checking your skin for cancer, and see your Chicago, IL dermatologist, Dr. Elizabeth Fahrenbach, at North Branch Dermatology every year or at any time you're concerned about a spot or mole.

What is skin cancer?

Affecting almost 10,000 Americans with a new diagnosis every day, skin cancer is an overgrowth of abnormal cells in the epidermis and dermis, the top and second layers of the largest organ in our bodies. While we all have variations in texture and pigmentation as we age, skin cancers look and act in specific ways which signal danger.

The most common skin cancer is basal cell carcinoma, followed by squamous cell carcinoma. Detected in their earliest stages, these malignancies slowly spread, or metastasize, and they are highly curable. A third type, malignant melanoma, is more insidious and dangerous, often moving quickly and undetected from the skin to major bodily organs. Actinic keratoses are precancerous growths.

What to look for

In general, spots, freckles or moles should not change in size, color, or texture. That's why Dr. Fahrenbach advises you to look at your skin (a total body check) every month to know your skin well. This familiarity helps you see changes so that you can report them to your skin doctor right away.

You should also call North Branch Dermatology's Chicago office if you have a spot, freckle or mole which:

  • Is sore, lumpy, or bleeding
  • Itches intensely
  • Changes, particularly when you compare it similar spots
  • Is located under a toenail or fingernail

Dr. Fahrenbach asks her patients to apply a common sense way to evaluate skin lesions. It uses the mnemonic ABCDE. When you look at a spot or mole, think of:

  • Asymmetry: Changes in size and shape, particularly toward one side of a mole, which may indicate cancer.
  • Border: Cancerous borders, or edges, may be scalloped or notched.
  • Color: Most moles are brown, black or tan. Specks, streaks or odd colors, such as red or blue, are danger signs.
  • Diameter: A healthy mole is no larger than a pencil eraser (<6 millimeters).
  • Evolution: Any change in a spot's size, color, shape, or how it feels should be reported to your skin doctor.

Your healthiest skin through prevention

The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends that you respect the sun and its power to damage your skin. To protect yourself, please apply an SPF 30 or higher sunscreen, wear protective clothing, and avoid tanning and sunburns. Remember, sun exposure is cumulative—so the more you're exposed over the years, the greater your chances are of developing precancerous conditions or skin cancer itself.

Find out more

Please call North Branch Dermatology in Chicago, IL to arrange your total body skin check. Between you and your dermatologist, you can track changes over time and avoid dangerous skin malignancies. Call today: (773) 763-6000.

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