Cancers We Treat Finding Skin Cancer Early

A close up of a microscope slide with cancer cells, held by a researcher wearing gloves and mask.

UNDERSTANDING SKIN CANCER Early Detection

Your best defense against skin cancer is to find it early. Finding cancer early provides you with more treatment options and chance at positive outcomes.

Seeing your doctor regularly and learning to recognize the signs and risks of skin cancer is essential to catching the disease before it spreads to other areas.

At Baptist MD Anderson, we follow MD Anderson’s model of outstanding patient care, research, prevention and education. Our commitment is to bring world-renowned cancer care close to home.

KNOW WHAT TO LOOK FOR Signs of Skin Cancer

The only way to know for sure whether a mole or spot on your skin is cancer is to have a doctor look at it. If you have any of these signs, it’s best to make an appointment with a dermatologist.

  • Basal cell carcinoma

    Basal cell cancer usually grows slowly and is often painless. It may not look that different from your normal skin.

    You may have a skin bump or growth that is:

    • Pearly or waxy
    • White or light pink
    • Flesh-colored or brown
    • A red, scaly patch of skin
    • In some cases, the skin is just slightly raised, or even flat.
    • A skin sore that bleeds easily
    • A sore that does not heal
    • Oozing or crusting spots in a sore
    • A scar-like sore without having injured the area
    • Irregular blood vessels in or around the spot
    • A sore with a depressed (sunken) area in the middle
  • Squamous cell carcinoma

    Squamous cell cancer usually occurs on the face, ears, neck, hands, or arms. It may occur on other areas. The main symptom is a growing bump that may have a rough, scaly surface and flat reddish patches.

    • The earliest form (squamous cell carcinoma in situ) can appear as a scaly, crusted, and large reddish patch that can be larger than 1 inch (2.5 centimeters).
    • A sore that does not heal can be a sign of squamous cell cancer.
    • Any change in an existing wart, mole, or other skin lesion could be a sign of skin cancer.
  • Melanoma

    Have any suspicious lesion checked immediately, especially if it has grown quickly or is partially flat and partially raised.

    At first, melanoma cells are found in the top layers of the skin. However, once they grow deeper, the cancer can come into contact with lymph and blood vessels, and from there spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. The thicker the melanoma, the greater the likelihood that it could spread to distant sites. Later stage melanoma can spread to various organs, carrying cancer to the liver, lungs and even the brain.

    Removing the lesion before it reaches the deeper layers of the skin is important to achieve a cure and minimize the chance of metastasis.

    Melanomas tend to grow in stages:

    • Most melanomas tend to be flat at first, and spread across the skin surface as they grow. At this early stage, which can last 1 to 5 years or longer, removing the growth has an excellent chance of curing the melanoma. Still, there is a possibility that some of these melanomas are invasive, and they should be treated aggressively.
    • Lesions that become raised or dome-shaped over at least part of their surface indicate that downward growth has occurred. In some cases, this growth is very rapid, occurring over a period of weeks to months.

    Common signs of melanoma include:

    • Change in color, size, shape or texture of a mole
    • Skin lesion with irregular borders
    • Growth of an existing skin lesion
    • Large brown spot with darker speckles
    • Hard, dome-shaped bumps anywhere on your body

RISK FACTORS

Skin cancer risk factors include:

  • Age
  • Blonde or red hair, light eye color, and fair skin that freckles or sunburns easily
  • Sun exposure
  • Tanning bed exposure
  • Previous skin cancer
  • Previous skin injuries, such as a major scar
  • Family history of melanoma
  • Excessive moles – 50 or more
  • Compromised immune system

PREVENTION

While skin cancer can happen to anyone, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of this disease:

  • Avoid sunburns
  • Use broad spectrum SPF
  • Avoid tanning, especially UV tanning beds
  • Seek the shade
  • Wear sun-resistant clothing
  • Examine your skin each month to look for changes to moles and other skin spots
A closeup of a medical magnifying tool examining a person's arm.

CATCHING SKIN CANCER EARLY Screening

Screening improves your chances of detecting cancer at an early stage, when it is easier to treat, and may help limit the spread to other areas of your body. While sun and tanning bed exposure increase your risk, skin cancer can happen to anyone.

Early-stage skin cancer is curable and when treated early, you have a better chance of a successful cure and maintaining a good quality of life.


When Should You Have Skin Cancer Screening?

You can do monthly self-exams using the ‘ABCDE’ rule to help you identify changes to moles and other skin spots that you should get checked out by your primary care doctor or dermatologist:

  • A = asymmetry (one half of the mole does not match the other half)
  • B = border irregularity (edges of the mole are ragged or blurred)
  • C = color (pigmentation of the mole is not uniform, with varying degrees of brown or black)
  • D = diameter of more than ¼ inch (about the size of a pencil eraser)
  • E = evolving (the mole is changing over time)

In addition, we recommend regular skin cancer screening exams by a doctor for high-risk individuals who identify with one of more of the following criteria:

  • Family history of skin cancer
  • Previous personal skin cancer history
  • Frequent sun exposure
  • Frequent tanning bed exposure
  • Pre-cancerous cell detection on the skin

Regardless of your personal risk factors, you should become familiar with your skin so you can notify your primary care doctor or dermatologist immediately if you notice any changes.

Contact Us

If you have any questions, we have you covered. We have nurse navigators available to guide you through every step of your care. Request an appointment or speak to a nurse navigator by phone or online.

OUR LOCATION Skin Cancer Clinic

Within our specialized, multidisciplinary clinics, we bring together our team of experts to care for your mind, body and spirit - all under one roof. Each of our clinics are singularly focused on your specific needs and treatment.

Need Directions? The skin cancer clinic is located at the Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center.

An exterior photo of Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Find a Doctor

Our care team brings medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, surgeons and other specialists together for each patient.

FOR WHATEVER STEP IS NEXT, Baptist MD Anderson is Here for You

Wherever you are in your journey, we’re here to help you in your fight against cancer. Our team of experts can help you navigate the whirlwind of emotions and decisions through every aspect of your care.

"I have always been very diligent about using sunblock, but that screening was my ‘Aha!’ moment."

— Sara McKee, skin cancer survivor

After taking part in running a skin screening tent at a local event, Sara knew it was time to get her own skin looked at, too. And she’s very glad she did.