The A-B-C-D-Es for 3 types of skin cancer to look out for

Make sure to follow your ABCDEs to detect three of the most common types of skin cancer.

There’s good news and not so good news when it comes to skin cancer.

First the good news: According to the American Cancer Society, melanoma accounts for only about 1 percent of skin cancers.

The not-so-good news: It also causes the largest amount of skin cancer deaths.

To put this in perspective, the American Cancer Society estimates in 2019, more than 96,000 people will be diagnosed with melanomas. Of those diagnosed, more than 7,000 are expected to die of melanoma.

Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are two more types of skin cancers not often talked about. These two types are the most common.

The vast majority of patients usually get basal or squamos cell cancers on areas most often exposed to the sun, on the head and neck.

It is important to identify and treat these types of cancer, along with melanoma, as early as possible. The good news is most are benign. This means it is a mild type of cancer, but they can still cause scarring or sometimes affect organs in your body. It’s not impossible for these cancers to spread and become fatal.

Squamos cell carcinoma (SCC) is found most often on sun-exposed areas of the body such as the head, neck, ears or back of the hands. Statistics show 55 percent of the time it will be SCC. For those who smoke tobacco, the lower lip is a common location for SCC. It appears as a smooth nodule, or plaque lesion, like a patch of dry skin. Signs of SCC also can be wart-like growths or raised growth with a lower area in the center.

Basal cell carcinomas (BCC) also can develop in sun-exposed areas but can show up anywhere on your body. BCC is known to show up as a flat, firm, yellow area resembling a scar. 70 percent of the time it will show up on your face and is most common in Caucasians and 50- to 60-year-olds. Unlike SCC, the basal cell carcinoma is usually a pink or flesh-colored pearly, domed nodule.

Melanoma skin cancer is one of the least common types of cancer but also is more likely to grow and spread. The tumors are usually brown or black but can be pink, tan or white in color. Those with darker pigmented skin are at lower risk for developing melanoma.

Make sure you use the A-B-C-D-E’s of skin cancer as a starting point to evaluate yourself. This handy acronym comes from the Skin Cancer Foundation and will help you to evaluate the likelihood, or unlikely-hood, you might have skin cancer. Please make sure to know; however, if there is any doubt, always talk to your medical provider.

>> “A” is for asymmetry. If you draw an imaginary line through a suspected mark on your skin the two halves should not match up, making them asymmetrical.

>> “B” is for border. A mole will have smooth even borders, unlike melanomas.

>> “C” is for color. Most benign, a.k.a. harmless, moles are a single color. Melanomas usually have at least two different colors.

>> “D” is for diameter. Benign lesions, or moles, are smaller in diameter. A good measurement is the end of a pencil eraser. Melanomas are usually larger than the eraser.

>> “E” is for evolving. Moles most likely will look the same over time. If a mole starts to evolve or change in any way, see your provider right away.

If you come see me for a spot on your skin, I look at several factors, such as the “ABCDE’s.” Also, I might want to get a biopsy to confirm it is cancer. I prefer to biopsy it so we know exactly what it is we are dealing with and how to treat it. If it is melanoma, you will be referred to a dermatologist or oncologist if melanoma is advanced. Survival rates in recent years have more than doubled with skin carcinomas.

In the meantime, make sure you use sunscreen with 15 SPF or higher, avoid tanning beds, try to stay out of the sun from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day or keep yourself covered with long sleeves and pants.

If you suspect you have skin cancer, make sure to seek an evaluation from a reliable medical provider.

Sources: American Cancer Society – cancer.org; Skin Cancer Foundation – skincancer.org

 Johnlyn Nettles is a certified family nurse practitioner at MUSC Health-Primary Care-Hoffmeyer in Florence. She is accepting new patients. For more information, call 843-679-4214 or go to MUSChealth.org/florence.