Spotting the Symptoms & Diagnosing Skin Cancer with RWJBarnabas Health

When it comes to properly treating conditions like melanoma or skin cancer, it’s imperative that patients receive an accurate diagnosis. At RWJBarnabas Health, our physicians and cancer treatment professionals are some of the leading experts in New Jersey when it comes to spotting the symptoms and then finding the proper course of treatment.

Often, skin cancers do not cause bothersome symptoms until they have grown quite large. However, it may be possible to see or feel skin cancers in their early stages.

Skin cancer symptoms may differ by skin cancer type:

  • Basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer, with more than 4 million cases diagnosed in the U.S. each year.These cancers are most often found in areas that are exposed to the sun, such as the head, neck and arms, but they may also occur elsewhere. Treatment options for basal cell and squamous cell carcinoma include surgery, other forms of local therapy, radiation therapy, systemic chemotherapy and targeted therapy. The type of skin cancer treatment recommended will depend on the type and stage of the cancer, as well as other factors.
  • Melanoma skin cancer. This type of cancer is less common, accounting for only 1% of all skin cancers, but it is more likely to grow and spread. As a result, melanoma is responsible for a large majority of skin cancer deaths. Treatment for melanoma skin cancer will depend on the stage of the cancer and other factors, but may include surgery, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
  • Merkel cell skin cancer. This type of cancer arises from Merkel cells, a type of neuroendocrine cell that is found at the base of the epidermis.
  • Lymphoma of the skin. Also known as cutaneous lymphoma, this type of skin cancer starts in immune cells, known as lymphocytes, in the skin.
  • Kaposi sarcoma. This cancer develops from cells that line lymph or blood vessels, and it causes purple, red or brown blotches or tumors. It usually manifests as tumors on the skin or on mucosal surfaces such as the inside of the mouth, but tumors can also develop in other parts of the body, including the lymph nodes, lungs or digestive tract.

When it comes to finding early signs of skin cancer, which is when it is most treatable, it is important to examine your skin on a regular basis. Regular skin self-examination allows you to become familiar with moles and other skin conditions, so you can better identify any changes or potential early skin cancer symptoms.

To perform a skin self-exam, you’ll need a bright light, a full-length mirror, hand mirror and a hair dryer. You’ll want to look for and keep track of freckles, moles, birthmarks, bumps, sores, scabs and scaly patches:

  1. Study your face in front of the mirror, paying special attention to your nose, mouth, lips and ears (both front and back).
  2. Check your scalp with a hard mirror. You can use the hair dryer to life sections of your hair.
  3. Look at your fingernails, fingers, palms and forearms (both front and back).
  4. Check your upper arms, including your underarms.
  5. Examine your neck, chest and torso. Women should check under their breasts, as well.
  6. Turn your back to the full-length mirror and use the hand mirror to look at the reflection of the back of your neck, shoulders and upper back. Then, look at your lower back, buttocks and the back of your legs. Ask someone to be your second set of eyes.
  7. Sit down and use the hand mirror to examine your genitals. Then, check your legs, particularly the ankles, tops and soles of your feet, and between the toes.

The American Cancer Society recommends performing a skin self-exam once a month. If you notice any spots on your skin that are new or changing in size, shape and color, tell your healthcare provider or schedule an appointment at an RWJBarnabas Health facility.

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