Mind Your Body TV Episode 19 with Christopher Zachary, M.D.
Like many troublesome things in life, it starts so small. That miniscule red spot on your face itches and flakes, you scratch it, it bleeds, it heals, and around-and-around you and it go until one day you decide, “This doesn’t look right.” You wish you’d thought about how to stop a precancerous spot.
I “should have” caught the darn thing when it was still a precancerous lesion. I did, in fact, have another dermatologist evaluate it and he said it was an actinic keratosis—a small, rough, raised area found on skin that has been exposed to the sun over a long period of time. Over many years, some actinic keratoses may develop into a type of skin cancer. This already was.
By the time Dr. Christopher Zachary, chair of UC Irvine’s Dermatology Department caught it, it was a basal cell. Your intuition is (almost) always right, so listen up. Did you know that nearly 40 to 50 percent of fair-skinned people who live to be 65 will develop at least one skin cancer?
Learn about the “big three” skin cancers
You want to stop a precancerous spot or lesion in the bud before it becomes:
This most dangerous type of skin cancer can be fatal if not caught early before it spreads to other organs. It is the leading cause of death from skin disease, and is caused by changes in cells called melanocytes. These produce a skin pigment called melanin that colors our skin and hair. Melanoma can appear on normal skin, or it may begin as a mole or other area that has changed in appearance.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says the ABCDE system can help you remember possible symptoms of melanoma:
- Asymmetry: One half of the abnormal area is different from the other half.
- Borders: The edges of the growth are irregular.
- Color: Color changes from one area to another, with shades of tan, brown, or black, and sometimes white, red, or blue. A mixture of colors may appear within one sore.
- Diameter: The spot is usually (but not always) larger than 6 mm in diameter, or about the size of a pencil eraser.
- Evolution: The mole keeps changing appearance.
Nonmelanoma skin cancers:
Basal cell carcinoma
It’s the most common form of skin cancer in the United States, “representing” 75 percent of all of them. NIH says the cancer may look like a skin bump or growth that’s pearly or waxy (mine was), white or light pink, flesh-colored or brown, with skin slightly raised or even flat. Like mine, it can bleed easily, fail to heal, ooze or crust in a sore, make a scar even without injury, exhibit irregular blood vessels or a sore with a depressed (sunken) area in the middle.
Squamous cell carcinoma
This form of skin cancer usually occurs on the face, ears, neck, hands, or arm, a growing bump that may have a rough, scaly surface and flat reddish patches. The Skin Cancer Foundation notes that squamous cell can disfigure and may be deadly. An estimated 700,000 cases of this cancer are diagnosed each year in the U.S., resulting in approximately 2,500 deaths.
Don’t second-guess your skin. If in doubt, find out. Now, where’s your sunblock? It’s the first way to prevent and stop a precancerous spot.
Watch this Mind Your Body TV video with Dr. Zachary about lasers and skin resurfacing.
(Photos courtesy: American Academy of Dermatology)
P. S. My hair in this story is distracting–if it bothers you, it bothers me, too. Life is a journey, and lesson learned: No more shoots without someone to watch out for wayward strands. Thanks for your patience with the process.