3 Surprisingly Simple Words to Catch Skin Cancer Early.
What if we told you that three simple words have the power to change your life?
If you can remember these three words, you can recognize skin cancer early – when it’s treatable and curable.
Our friends at The Skin Cancer Foundation have made things so much easier when it comes to early diagnosis of skin cancer. They recently published new guidelines for identifying skin cancers in their earliest stages and developed an education program to help all of us with self-exams, early detection and knowing when it’s time for treatment.
And the good news is that it involves just three simple words – new, changing, unusual.
If that’s your response to seeing something “new” on your skin, good! “New” needs to be noticed. “New” needs to be checked out by your dermatologist. “New” should never be ignored. When you see “new,” call Midwest Dermatology. We are here, and provide an expert evaluation of anything “new” that pops up on your skin.
Well, that looks different
If something has changed – maybe it’s gotten bigger, darker, or even uglier – Midwest Dermatology wants to see it and evaluate it. “Changing” is a big sign of early skin cancers.
You don’t even know what to say
While you might call something “unusual,” a dermatologist thinks of it as “atypical.” “Unusual” might be any mole, spot or freckle that catches your eye and stands out on your skin. Most of us know what a normal mole on our body looks like. If you see one that’s different, or “unusual,” it’s time for a trip to the dermatologist.
The Big See
These three simple words – new, changing, unusual – are all part of a campaign called The Big See, a public education initiative. The Big See is focused on giving people clear guidance on what to look for and what to do next when they see things on their skin that are new, changing or unusual.
The Big See doesn’t work without you, however. You can join the effort by committing to do a monthly skin self-exam. Some people like to use prompts such as monthly siren testing to establish a consistent date. Each time you examine your skin, you should trip down, get a mirror and start looking. This time around, though, we’re skipping the complicated warning signs and buzzwords like “ulcerated” Instead, we encourage you to look for those three basic characteristics – new, changing, unusual.
What to Expect After ‘The Big See’
If you have a spot that fits into any of those new, changing or unusual categories, book an appointment with your Midwest Dermatology skin specialist. During your appointment:
- Your dermatologist will check for any signs of skin cancer or pre-cancer.
- If the spots are not cancerous, your MWD team will go over the good news and let you be on your way.
- If a non-cancerous spot or growth is painful, inflamed or causing you problems, our team may remove it by freezing it or shaving it from the skin’s surface.
- If a spot is suspicious, your physician will do a simple test called a biopsy. Basically, the doctor will remove a tiny bit of the suspicious skin spot, process it in a lab and expertly read the sample under the microscope.
What means what exactly?
When people hear a doctor deliver a diagnosis of “skin cancer” they sometimes think all skin cancers are the same. We’re here to tell you they’re not. There are several major types of skin cancer and some are more serious, by far, than others.
So, when you get your results during your appointment, listen closely for the following:
Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) – the most common type of skin cancer. If you hear that diagnosis, you will join the other four million people who are diagnosed each year. Caused by a lifetime of exposure to the sun, basal cell carcinomas are an overgrowth of abnormal cells growing uncontrolled in the basal layer of your skin. It’s very rare to see a BCC spread beyond the skin, but they are very damaging.
If there’s a bright spot with Basal Cell Carcinomas, it’s that they are slow growing so they can often be treated them before they cause much damage. And cure rates are as high – up to 99% when doctors use Mohs Microscopic Surgery. Mohs is what you call the ‘the gold standard’ in skin cancer surgery on the face and on other visible areas where skin cannot be spared.
BCCs often show up as “unusual.” If you see something unusual on your skin, let your board-certified dermatologist at Midwest Dermatology decide if it needs to be tested.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) – another common skin cancer. If you’re diagnosed with Squamous Cell Carcinoma it means that the cells in the squamous layer of your skin are growing abnormally fast. Most SCCs are easily treated when caught early. But if they are allowed to grow, SCCs can become disfiguring, dangerous and even deadly.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma is its own unique disease, and is considered more dangerous than Basal Cell Carcinoma because it has the potential to grow into deeper layers of skin and to spread to other parts of the body.
Squamous cell carcinomas can look different on everyone. If you see a “new” sore or an “unusual” spot that doesn’t look right or won’t heal, have your Midwest Dermatology physician take a look.
Actinic Keratosis (AK) – these are new spots that are in a pre-cancerous stage. In other words, Actinic Keratosis spots are not cancer – yet. Think of AKs as the sun damage before the storm. If you wait long enough, Actinic Keratoses can turn into Squamous Cell Carcinoma, which is the more disfiguring form of skin cancer.
So, have your Midwest Dermatology physician look at any “new” growths which might be early pre-cancers and have them removed before they cause harm.
Malignant Melanoma – considered the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Melanoma is a type of cancer that begins in the melanocytes of the skin. It’s dangerous because it grows fast and can spread to other organs, where it tbecomes life threatening. The key to surviving melanoma is to catch it early.
Catching it early starts by watching for “new” or “changing” moles. If you see any change – in size, shape, color or edges – it’s time to schedule a prompt appointment at Midwest Dermatology. Your dermatologist will be looking at whether the mole (or moles) are uneven – for example, with more than one color or unmatched sides.
The five-year survival rate for melanomas that are caught early is 99%, so take action and take it fast. The survival rate goes down to 65% if melanoma spreads to your lymph nodes, and goes down to 25% if the disease spreads to other organs.
So there you have it. Three little words that can make such a big difference in your life. Call us right away if you see anything….