May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. Skin cancer is not uncommon; according to Skin Cancer Foundation, one in every three cancers diagnosed is a skin cancer and one in every five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. In Nigeria experts say the rise of skin cancer is as a result of skin bleaching among other issues.
More importantly, throughout the year, you should examine your skin head to toe once a month, looking for any suspicious lesions. Self-exams can help you identify potential skin cancers early, when they can almost always be completely cured.
How common is skin cancer?
Currently, between 2 and 3 million non-melanoma skin cancers and 132,000 melanoma skin cancers (types of skin cancers) occur globally each year. One person dies of melanoma every hour (every 54 minutes). An estimated 9,730 people will die of melanoma in 2017, experts have predicted.
Here are signs you should look out for!
· A mole
Keep an eye out for a mole that looks different to the others on your body. Remember, moles you are born with can develop into skin cancer and not all ‘new’ moles are dangerous. A normal mole is usually an evenly coloured brown, tan, or black spot on the skin. It can be either flat or raised. It can be round or oval. Moles are generally less than 6 millimetres (about ¼ inch) across (about the width of a pencil eraser).
According to Dr.Debra Wattenberg, a New York dermatologist, “A lot of people have moles that look sort of scary, but they have got 20 of them on their arm or their back. And then they have one that is totally different looking. Usually, it’s the ‘ugly duckling’, the one that stands out, that is problematic,” she said. Most people have moles, and almost all moles are harmless. But it’s important to recognise changes in a mole, such as in its size, shape, or colour that can suggest a melanoma may be developing.
Vertical dark streak on your nail
It is not that well known that melanomas of the nail can develop – but they can. Famously Bob Marley died at 36, of acrallentiginous melanoma which appeared as a dark spot under his toenail and spread to his liver.The cancer can appear like a pigmented dark streak down your nail, or something that looks like a blood blister towards the base of the nail.
This is known as melanoma of the eye – which can only be discovered during an eye exam. “Just like you have a mole on your skin, a spot can appear in the back of the eye. Doctors will only discover it when you get your pupils dilated during an eye exam”. This is according to Dr. Sapna Patel, a melanoma oncologist at MD Anderson Cancer Centre in Houston, USA. Less than half of patients will actually have symptoms, Patel said. If you do have them, they may show up as blurry vision, floaters, a growing dark spot on the iris, and other issues. It is important to get it checked as half of patients will never get symptoms.
· A spot that will not go away
Some cancers can appear like a pimple that doesn’t clear up – or may go away and come right back in the same place.
· There is a black spot inside your cheek
The inside of your cheek, nasal cavity, anal region and the vagina are other less known locations where you can get melanoma.
Other warning signs are:
- Spread of pigment from the border of a spot into surrounding skin
- Redness or a new swelling beyond the border of the mole
- Change in sensation, such as itchiness, tenderness, or pain
- Change in the surface of a mole- scaliness, oozing, bleeding, or the appearance of a lump or bump