Can you mistake skin cancer for something else?

Question:  I’ve noticed a small sore like a scab on my left upper arm that will not go away. What could that be? What should I do about it?

Answer:   Your sore could be a Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC), so don’t take it lightly.

Sometimes a BCC can resemble something else like a mole, psoriasis or eczema,  a scar or any irritation. My rule of thumb is to watch it for one month:  If it does not go away or it enlarges or changes get it check out by a dermatologist, for an accurate diagnosis. The reason is because BCC is the most common type of skin cancer we see and anyone with a history of sun exposure is at risk of developing BCCs. A BCC is medically defined as any abnormal, uncontrolled growth or lesion that occurs in the skin’s basal cells (which line the deepest layer of the epidermis, the outermost layer of skin). They can start out as a barely noticeable lesion or rough patch, and while they rarely metastasize (spread) to larger organs beyond the original tumor site, they can be highly disfiguring and destructive to surrounding skin, if allowed to grow.

Who is at risk for BCCs? Aside from extensive exposure to UV sun rays such as in workers or athletes or even those who spend a lot of leisure time outdoors, we consider those with fair skin, blond or red hair, and those with blue, green or grey eyes to be at highest risk.

BCCs have generally been seen in older people but lately it seems the patients we are treating are younger and younger. And men have historically outnumbered women, although the number of women under age 40 diagnosed with BCC has more than doubled in the last 35 years.

There are five warning signs of a basal cell carcinoma; two or more are usually present in one tumor:

  1. Any non-healing open sore that bleeds, oozes or crusts and remains open for more than 3 weeks can be a very early sign of BCC.
  2. Any reddish or irritated area on the face, chest, shoulders, arms or leg which can be patchy or crusty may itch or hurt or may not have any sensation at all.
  3. Any pink growth that is slightly elevated with a rolled border and a crusted indentation in the center. If left to grow, tiny blood vessels may develop on the surface as it enlarges.
  4. Any shiny bump or nodule, often confused with a normal mole, that is pearly or clear, pink, red, white or even tan, black, or brown, especially in dark-skinned, dark-haired people.
  5. A scar-like area that is white, yellow or waxy and often has poorly defined borders or skin that looks shiny and taut, which indicate an aggressive, invasive BCC that is larger than appears on the surface.

BCCs are easily treated when caught early and cure rates are close to 100 percent, so any lesion that has been around for one month should be checked as soon as possible and treated and monitored by a dermatologist.

Do you have a growth that worries you? What does it look like?

 

 

Skin cancer terms

Skin Cancer

A tumor arising in the skin caused by uncontrolled cell division. Classified as melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer (basal and squamous cell carcinoma).

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)

The most common type of skin cancer, it originates from the basal cells in skin and usually appears as a red lump or scaly area. It rarely spreads to other organs (metastasizes).

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)

A scaly or plate-like malignant tumor of the skin that sometimes spreads (metastasizes) to other organs. The second most common form of skin cancer

Malignant Melanoma (Melanoma)

Malignant Melanoma is a cancer of melanocytes and usually has an irregular outline and patchy coloring. It is the most dangerous type of skin cancer that can spread to other organs (metastasize).