The Weird Sign You Have Skin Cancer
If this is happening to you, head to your doctor ASAP
BY CHRISTA SGOBBA, SEPTEMBER 04, 2014
Skin cancer doesn’t always announce itself with the sudden appearance of a big, black weird-looking mole. An itch that doesn’t go away or a feeling of tenderness in a lesion might be red flags for certain kinds of skin cancer, found a study from the Temple University School of Medicine.
The researchers found that itching and pain were frequent complaints in squamous cell and basal cell carcinomas, the two most common forms of skin cancers. Pain in particular was especially associated with squamous cell—over 40 percent of patients reported their lesion hurt, nearly twice the rate of basal cell.
“Squamous cell tends to be a bit deeper in the skin,” says study author Gil Yosipovitch, M.D. “When you have deeper processes in the skin, they are more associated with the activation of pain fibers rather than itch fibers.”
Make an appointment pronto with your doctor if you feel pain or soreness in a growth, or a persistent itch that lasts six weeks or more—and be sure to stress those symptoms to him, says Dr. Yosipovitch. This can help your doc prioritize which lesions should be biopsied first if you have several that look suspicious.
Even if pain or itching is absent, it’s still best to have any strange-looking lesions checked out. Basal cell cancers can look like shiny red bumps, open sores, or even red patches on your skin. Squamous cell cancers are often thick and scaly, but sometimes they can look like basal cell cancers, too, says Dr. Yosipovitch.
Squamous cell and basal cell cancers usually don’t spread, but they still need to be treated. “They do grow, and they can lead to disfigurement, especially around the face—like distortion of the ears or nose,” says Dr. Yosipovitch.
Interestingly, Dr. Yosipovitch’s study found that pain and itch were not common indicators of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Instead, he says, the ABCDE rule is better at determining if your mole is suspicious for melanoma than itching or tenderness: The mole is asymmetrical (one half doesn’t match the other); the border is ragged or irregular; the color is uneven, often including black, brown, or tan; the diameter is larger than the size of a pencil eraser; or the mole has evolved or changed over the past few weeks. If your mole seems suspicious, have your doctor check it out.