Skin Cancer 101

It’s time to bear all and discuss our skin.  When was the last time you really took a close look at your skin?  Examined all of its beauty marks, spots, moles and dimples?  If it’s been more than a month it’s been too long.

There are 3.5 million new cases of skin cancer annually and the Skin Cancer Foundation has estimated there will be approximately 9000 deaths from melanoma skin cancer and 3000 deaths from non-melanoma skin cancer in 2013.   Let’s bring that number down!

Healthy Skin Tips:

  1. Avoid sunburns and/or tanning.  Any UV light exposure whether it is from direct sun exposure, a tanning bed or incidental such as sitting by a sunny window, is causing cellular damage which can lead to premature aging (wrinkles and laxity) and skin cancer.
  2. Stay out of the sun between 10 am – 3 pm.
  3. Wear a hat with at least a 3 inch brim when in the sun.
  4. Apply 2 shot glassfuls of a broad spectrum UVA/UVB sunscreen 30 minutes before sun exposure.  Reapply every 2 hours or after you towel dry.
  5. Schedule a yearly skin exam with your doctor.


Check Yourself Out.

Once a month, strip down and examine your body.  In good lighting look closely at the front, back, right and left sides of your body.  Use a hand mirror to look at the back of your neck, back and buttocks.  Check your scalp by parting your hair to see any skin changes.  Look over your face, lips, forearms, upper arms, hands, feet, palms of hands, soles of feet, nails and genitals.  Take a picture or write down which mole or lesion you are concerned with in order to show your doctor.

You can also do a tactile examination as well and feel for any areas of roughness, scaling or tenderness.  This can help detect developing Actinic keratoses, which are most common in sun-exposed areas and are a precancerous lesion.


Learn your ABCDE’s.  

Here are the key things to watch for while examining your skin.

A:  Asymmetry.  Does one half not match the other half?

B:  Borders.  Is the border irregular or look like it’s bleeding into the surrounding skin?

C:  Color.  Are there varied shades of tan, black, brown, blue or red in the same mole?

D:  Diameter.  Is it over 6 millimeters in diameter or larger than a pencil eraser?

E:  Evolving.  Is the mole or lesion changing in size, shape or shade color?


When to call your Doctor:

  • If you answer yes to any of the ABCDE’s.
  • If it oozes, bleeds, crusts, itches, lasts longer than one month or doesn’t heal.
  • If it feels scaly or rough like sandpaper.

Understand the Doctor Lingo:

Now that you have made it to the doctor, here are a few of the skin terms they might use to describe your mole or lesion.

Benign:  This is a noncancerous skin coloration or marking.

Malignant:  Cancerous cells that have the ability to invade other cells or metastasize.

Seborrheic keratosis: A common benign skin growth that appears on sun exposed areas.  They usually are brown, black or pale in color with a waxy, scaly and elevated appearance.

Actinic keratosis:  A pre-cancerous growth commonly referred to as an AK, which may lead to Squamous cell carcinoma.  This scaly, rough patch is usually felt before it is seen.  It has the texture of sandpaper typically on sun-exposed areas of skin and can be flesh-colored, red, tan or brown.  Occasionally, the lesion will itch and become red or inflamed.

Basal Cell Carcinoma: The most common form of skin cancer arises from abnormal growth of the basal cells in the deepest layer of the epidermis in sun damaged areas of the body.  This skin cancer is typically slow growing and may have a pearl-like, pink or red coloration.  Basal cell carcinoma can look like a scar or open wound as the lesion will begin to ulcerate.  Some telangiectasias, tiny blood vessels, may be visible as well.  Basal Cell Carcinoma rarely metastasizes or spreads from original site however it can be disfiguring and should be removed by a physician.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma: The second most common form of skin cancer coming from abnormal growth of Squamous cells in the epidermis.  Most frequently found in sun damaged areas of skin, however Squamous cell carcinoma can also be found on the genitals and mucous membranes of the mouth.  This lesion typically appears as a red scaly patch, raised lesion with a central depression, wart like or an open sore and may crust or bleed.  These lesions can be disfiguring and may metastasize if allowed to grow.

Melanoma:  The most dangerous form of skin cancer from the abnormal growth of DNA damaged melanocytes in the epidermis.  This malignant cancer can appear as a mole or arise from an existing mole and is typically black or brown but may also be a variation or red, blue, purple, tan or white.  These lesions can metastasize so best to remove and treat early.

For more information on how to live healthy naturally contact Dr. Bridget Anderson,    Naturopathic Medical Doctor at HEAL Natural Medicine.  949-476-3278 or