ABC Medical Center > Cancer > Skin cancer, how is it detected and what causes it?

Skin cancer, how is it detected and what causes it?

30 May 2022

Key points

  • Through the ABCDE of melanoma, you will be able to identify the characteristics of this type of cancer.
  • The use of 50 or higher SPF will be your great ally against skin cancer.
  • Skin cancer is divided into basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma.

One in five people will develop skin cancer in their lifetime, says Dr. María Eugenia Solloa, a dermatologist at the ABC Medical Center. Skin cancer is considered as the accelerated, abnormal, and disorganized growth of some skin cells.

In general, skin tumors are divided into three types:

  • Basal cell carcinoma. It appears in the basal cells of the skin as a small multi-colored lump on the skin, it could look like a pearl on the surface of the skin, a pink or reddish hue, and, in some cases, it could be a little more pigmented.
  • Epidermoid carcinoma. In general, this type of carcinoma appears as if it were an ulcer or small sore on the surface of the skin and could be covered with scales, giving it a thicker appearance, as if it were a wart.
  • Melanoma. This type of skin cancer is the least common but is also the most feared because most of the deaths from skin cancer worldwide are due to it. In melanoma, we will detect a spot or mole that changes as we grow. Not every mole means melanoma, but you should see a dermatologist if the mole has uncontrolled growth, sudden changes in shape, color, or if it is asymmetrical.

Risk factors in skin cancer

According to Dr. Solloa, different risk factors can cause skin cancer: being a man, since they are more likely to get it; people over 50 years old and with white skin, although it is important to know that patients with dark skin can also suffer from it.

The most important factor for the development of skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet radiation, this can be received by direct or indirect sunlight or by the use of tanning beds. Dr. Solloa indicates that it is normal to say that there is no risk of developing skin cancer in tanning beds, but it is a recognized factor in its appearance.

Genetic changes, especially in patients who had melanoma or relatives who have suffered from this for generations, have resulted in mutations and can cause this change in people’s characteristics and the development of melanoma.

Identifying melanoma

When talking about melanoma there are 5 elements that we should look for in moles or spots, this is known as the ABCDE of melanoma, indicates Dr. Solloa.

  • Asymmetry. Normally, moles, regardless of their shape, are symmetrical if we divide them into four, but if they have holes or this symmetry is lost, it will lead us to suspect melanoma.
  • Irregular edges. Unlike a normal mole where the border can be followed perfectly, in melanoma, the border has small indentations or irregularities.
  • Coloration. Varied coloration is also a characteristic. A normal mole can have one or two shades of color, but in the case of melanoma there can be several shades including light brown, dark brown, blackish, grayish, or even bluish areas, this is one of the data that should draw attention when checking a mole.
  • Diameter. In general, the diameter of a conventional mole is less than six millimeters and, if the measurement is greater than this, it should be considered for melanoma tests.
  • Evolution. Evolution focuses on checking the mole’s growth throughout your life. You may have had a mole when you were little and as you grow it also grows, stable growth is normal, but if it grows abruptly or it is a recent mole and its shape has changed in a short time, you should see a dermatologist to have it checked.

Preventive measures for skin cancer

It is very common to believe that we do not need to use sunscreen being in an office or at home all day, says Dr. Solloa, but the reality is that we may have windows or bay windows in the workplace or at home which let sunlight in all the time, this is why we do need to apply sunscreen every day.

But if you work in the field, on construction sites, or outdoors, it is even more important that you protect yourself from the sun with a 50 or higher SPF.

Deciding how many times you should use sunscreen per day varies depending on your activities, for example, you can use it once if you are not exposed to the sun, but if you are outdoors, you should use it every four hours. If due to your activities you are in constant contact with water (pool or beach), sweat, clean your body repeatedly, or similar, the recommendation is to protect your skin every two hours or even every time you notice that the sunscreen has faded on your skin.

Additionally, clothing is a great ally against sun exposure, using hats, pants, sleeves, glasses, and other accessories to protect as much skin as possible and applying sunscreen in areas not protected by the fabric.

It is important that you always self-examine, check your skin, and see if it is changing, if you have doubts or suspicions, go to the dermatologist, do not let it go!

At the ABC Medical Center’s Cancer Center we can give you specialized care. Contact us!

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    Ricardo Ostos

    Ricardo Ostos

    Content Creator

    Ricardo can convey complex medical information in an accessible and friendly way so that all of our patients can understand and benefit from it. In addition, he has an empathetic approach, offering information and practical advice that really makes a difference in people's lives. #lifebringsustogether.

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