How to Spot Skin Cancer

May 8, 2019 8:09:06 AM / by Voyage Healthcare Team posted in Family Medicine, Health Tips

As temperatures warm up, more and more people will be heading outdoors. Unfortunately, being outside means exposure to harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. This exposure puts many people at risk of developing skin cancer.

Learn about the different types of skin cancer and how to prevent getting this disease.


What is skin cancer?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the US and affects roughly 5 million Americans annually.

Your skin is the largest organ in your body and helps protect against injury and infections, and also helps regulate body temperature. It is made up of two layers: the epidermis (outer layer) and the dermis (inner layer). Skin cancer begins in the epidermis and can metastasize (spread) to other parts of the body.

There are three common types of skin cancer:

  1. Basal cell carcinoma
  2. Squamous cell carcinoma
  3. Melanoma

Basal cell carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer and begins in the lower part of the epidermis. This cancer appears as a small white or flesh-colored bump that grows slowly. Basal cell cancer usually appears on parts of the body exposed to sunlight. It is rare for basal cell cancer to spread to other parts of the body.

Squamous cell cancer

This type of skin cancer also begins on the epidermis. It generally appears on skin that has been exposed to sunlight (natural or artificial), or areas exposed to chemical or radiation burns. Squamous cell cancer can produce a small red bump, a scaly red patch of skin, an open sore, or a wart. Typically, if this type of cancer has not metastasized to other parts of the body, it can be cured.


Melanoma is a deadly type of skin cancer which begins in the melanocytes — cells that produce a pigment called melanin. Melanoma can start as a mole or in tissues like the eye or intestines.

Risk factors

People with certain characteristics are at greater risk of developing skin cancer:

  • Fair complexion
  • Blue, green, or light-colored eyes
  • Red or blonde hair
  • History of sunburns
  • Family history of skin cancer

Other risk factors may include frequent exposure to natural and/or artificial sunlight.

If you start to notice skin spots changing, itching, or bleeding, speak with a provider.

How to spot melanoma

It’s essential to check your skin regularly and note the spots on your body. Moles, freckles, and age spots can all signal signs of skin cancer developing. If you have trouble seeing all the spots on your body, ask a loved one to check hard-to-see places.

Melanoma is a deadly form of skin cancer, but when caught early enough it is treatable. Identify the warning signs by looking for the following.

Look for the ABCDEs:

A = Asymmetry

Your spot is larger on one side than the other.

B = Border

Your spot has a raised or faded border.

C = Color

Your spot is different colors.

D = Diameter

Your spot has grown in size and is over 6mm (about the size of a pencil eraser).

E = Evolving

Your spot is changing in size, shape, or color.

Download the body mole map from the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) to learn more about what to look for.

If you can spot and catch skin cancer at an early stage it is far more likely that it can be cured. However, prevention is the #1 way to stop skin cancer in its tracks.

Protect yourself from the sun

No matter your risk factor, it’s important to reduce your exposure to ultraviolet rays. There are several ways to protect your skin from the sun:

  • Seek shade on sunny days
  • Wear clothing that covers your arms and legs
  • Use a hat to cover your face, head, neck, and arms
  • Wear sunglasses
  • Wear sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher

Consult a provider if you find unusual skin spots

If your skin is showing signs of abnormal moles, changing freckles, and odd-looking skin spots, speak with a family medicine provider at Voyage Healthcare.

Our family medicine providers see patients experiencing common dermatological issues such as odd-looking spots on the skin. We want you to enjoy the warm sunshine while keeping yourself healthy and your skin cancer-free, so schedule an appointment today!

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Voyage Healthcare Team

Written by Voyage Healthcare Team

Voyage Healthcare is an independently owned, multi-specialty healthcare clinic — guided by the doctors who care for families in the northwest metro area of Minneapolis/St. Paul.


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