Fact: Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the U.S. Fact: Most people don't know how to apply SPF properly. Also fact (and a bummer): Deadly skin cancers will continue to increase over the next 15 years. Basically, the sun + your skin = a really bad combination if you're not careful.
Now that we've thoroughly horrified you—sorry not sorry—how about some cheering up? The good news is that the earlier you catch and treat it, the more likely your dermatologist can cure cancer—about 90% of the time, says Mona Gohara, M.D., board-certified dermatologist in Connecticut. Small win! But before you roll your eyes and protest that you never use tanning beds or spend *that* much time outside, overexposure to UV rays isn't the only factor you need to consider.
Here's a sample of things you'd be surprised up your cancer risk:
- A relative—ma, pa, bro, sis—who battled skin cancer previously increases your odds.
- Fair skin—especially if you have blond or red hair.
- Getting many x-ray treatments (this can take years to cause risk, but *the more you know*).
- Having an immune-weakening disease such as Lymphoma and HIV.
- Bad burns or scars that have been exposed to UV rays.
- Smoking cigarettes. (Why are we not surprised?)
For a complete list, check out the American Academy of Dermatology.
So, you know what can cause this fatal disease but how can you spot it? First, we need to break skin cancer into its three basic types: basal cell carcinoma (BCC), melanoma, and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). BCC is the most common form of skin cancer and is often located in areas frequently exposed to sunlight (neck, face, hands, arms); melanoma primarily refers to moles and it's the deadliest form; SCC is similar to BCC except it also includes cancer spotted specifically inside the mouth, on the lips, and around a person's genitals and usually arises from preexisting conditions (like diseases or genetics). [pauses for you to absorb all that] We good?
A lot of their symptoms overlap—which doesn't *really* matter because despite which category you fall under, it's still skin cancer. We tapped into Gohara's expertise to find out which "little" signs could potentially mean big trouble down the road if untested:
1. If you cut it in half, do both sides match up evenly? Asymmetrical moles aren't good.
2. Also look out for moles with jagged or irregular edges—normal ones are typically smooth.
3. If you've noticed the color of your moles become darker or just change color, ahem.
4. Track your mole's size to see if it's growing. Anything bigger than, say, the size of a pencil eraser needs to be checked out.
5. Moles that bleed or hurt.
6. Pimples that won't go away on sun-exposed skin. Zits appear and disappear all the time, but if a translucent, pimple-like bump doesn't go away after a month or so, it's most likely not a pimple.
7. Bruises on your feet that won't heal.
8. Exposure to HPV took us by surprise. So genitals—that normally don't see daylight unless, you know, you're chilling at a nude beach—with the virus can also develop squamous cells and lead to skin cancer.
9. A key phrase is "non-healing sore," which often refers to problems in the mouth (caused by smoking). Oral skin cancer falls under the SCC column, so please, DON'T PUFF THE TOBACCO.
10. Look under your fingernails for brown or black streaks. These can also appear on your toes.
11. Crusty, scaly (gonna be sick) skin is another biggie. But there's a difference between this and things like dry skin, psoriasis, or eczema even though these can all mimic each other in appearance. Usually, skin cancers are tender and won't respond to topical creams that most other ailments react to.
While these symptoms don't always link to skin cancer, you should schedule an appointment with a derm juuuust to be sure. Because 1.) why not and 2.) #fuckcancer.