According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of diagnosed skin cancers continues to grow yearly. In fact, statistics reveal that one out of three cancers diagnosed is skin cancer.
With people’s awareness of the harmful effects of sun exposure, beauty regimens involving topical protection and vitamin gummies for skin care supplementation remain popular.
People with lighter complexion are more at risk, but even those with comparatively higher skin pigmentation can have skin cancer, too. The only good news is that this type of cancer has a low fatality rate, thanks to early detection and treatment.
The first signs of skin cancer often seem like insignificant blemishes. Sometimes, they may even get masked by conditions like rosacea and melasma.
If you’re worried about moles, small lesions, or skin inflammation, read on to learn how the different types of skin cancer appear during the early stages and how to distinguish them from other skin conditions.
3 Types of Skin Cancer
Skin cancer may come in many forms, but the three most common types are:
1. Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)
Considered the most common of the different types of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma (BCC) begins at the bottom of the epidermis (the outermost skin layer).
It usually develops in areas exposed to sunlight, though basal cell carcinoma in more hidden parts of the body is not unheard of.
To check whether you have BCC, the American Cancer Society suggests you watch out for the following warning signs:
- Open sores that don’t heal or tend to reoccur (may also crust over or ooze)
- Lesions that bleed even without external force
- Pink doughnut-shaped growths (may come with atypical blood vessels, making it look like a wheel)
- Small red pearly, translucent, or pearly red or pink bumps that have areas with a brown, black, or blue hue
- Itchy, raised red patches
- A pale or yellowish flat and firm area that looks like a scar
2. Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)
Dubbed the second most common type of skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) begins along the flat cells near the skin surface.
This type of skin cancer is non-life threatening but can be quite aggressive. If left untreated, it could spread to other areas and cause severe complications.
SCC may take on different appearances but usually begins around the genital area (e.g., cervix, vagina, vulva, and penis). This skin cancer is also associated with human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Some women with a history of lichen sclerosus can also develop this type of skin cancer.
Below are the early signs of squamous cell carcinoma:
- Reddish firm nodules
- Flat and rough scaly patches
- A sore or raised area on an old scar
- A growth shaped like a horn or a dome
- Rough and red patch inside the mouth
- A wart-like sore or raised patch on or in the genitals or anus
- Hard lesions that grow twice as big in just a few weeks
- Growths that spread to different parts of the body
While it is not as prevalent as other forms of skin cancer, melanoma has the highest fatality rate among all three, probably because it is challenging to diagnose.
The condition first appears as changes to any pre-existing mole. Since a cancerous mole is challenging to distinguish from a normal one, specialists in cancer care in Dubai recommend using the “ABCDE” checklist:
- A for asymmetry: Place an imaginary line in the middle of the mole and check whether one side does not match the other.
- B for border: See whether the edges are poorly defined or shaped irregularly.
- C for colour: The mole has more than one colour, including black, blue, red, pink, or white.
- D for diameter: The mole diameter is about the size of a pencil eraser or more, which is roughly a quarter of an inch across.
- E for evolving: The mole grows in size or changes in shape and colour.
The “ugly duckling rule” is another way you can check for melanoma.
The idea is to check whether a suspected mole looks similar to others. If it stands out, it would be better to have a medical professional look at it.
4 Conditions That Affect Skin Cancer Diagnosis and Treatment
Sometimes, skin cancer can hide behind other skin conditions. There are also cases where certain chronic diseases impede accurate diagnosis of this type of cancer.
To help you discern which is which, below is a practical guide to distinguishing four skin conditions from cancer:
This inflammatory condition is characterised by visible blood vessels, bumps, and redness on the skin, which often appear on the face.
As such, rosacea can imitate and mask the two most common types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.
But while the red patches that come with skin cancer typically bleed from any minimal external force (e.g., towelling or washing), those that signal rosacea do not.
Eczema is a skin condition characterised by scaly areas on the skin. It can also form nodules on the skin surface, with long-term patients reporting itchy and thickened skin.
Besides looking a bit like SCC, eczema can impede accurate cancer diagnosis because of the extent of the skin scaliness and inflammation.
The surest way to get a precise answer is to visit a dermatologist or any other expert on skin cancer. They can determine if it’s skin cancer from the scales on the lesions, which are usually firmer, thicker, and more adherent with cancer than eczema.
Psoriasis comes with symptoms similar to eczema, in addition to blister-like sores on the hands and feet. Because of this, people may also mistake psoriasis symptoms for skin cancer.
While they may share similar features (i.e., discolouration or bleeding areas), skin cancer emerges as an isolated lesion rather than several sores spread across different body parts, as in psoriasis.
Skin cancer does not respond to usual psoriasis treatment.
Again, it’s best to consult a skin specialist to be sure.
People with melasma have large brown spots on their skin, which usually appear after pregnancy, sun exposure, or hormonal changes. It’s more challenging to treat than other forms of hyperpigmentation, but it’s still not as scary as skin cancer.
The thing is, skin cancer may hide within patches of melasma. If this happens, the former may be hard to spot, especially if the hyperpigmentation is treated with a brightening agent that makes the borders of cancer less distinct.
The only notable difference an untrained eye can make between the two is that melasma feels flatter than cancer and appears symmetrically (i.e., on both sides of the face).
Consult an Expert
Many consider a cancer diagnosis as a death sentence, but that’s not always the case. It all depends on how soon it is discovered and treated.
Remember: Skin cancer has a high survival rate because of early detection.
Learn how to distinguish cancer from other skin conditions using this article.
And if you suspect anything abnormal in your skin, take the best course of action: Have a doctor look at it.