Your complete online medical source

Navigate by theme:


Return to index

Skin Problems

Skin Cancer

Prevention - Home Treatment - When to Call a Health Professional

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer. Fortunately, many types of skin cancer are easy to cure.

Most skin cancer is caused by sun damage. Ninety percent of skin cancers occur on the face, neck, and arms, where sun exposure is greatest. Light-skinned, blue-eyed people are more likely to develop skin cancer. Dark-skinned people have less risk.

Most skin cancers are slow-growing, easy to recognize, and easy to treat in a doctor's office. A small percentage of skin cancers are more serious.

Skin cancers differ from noncancerous growths in the following ways:

Most moles are harmless. However, malignant melanomas (one type of cancerous mole) can be fatal and should be promptly treated.

Watch for these mole changes.


Top of Page

Most skin cancers can be prevented by avoiding excessive exposure to the sun. Most damaging sun exposure has occurred by age 20, so keep your children protected (See Sunburn). Repeated sun exposure and severe sunburns are major factors in some types of skin cancer.

Home Treatment

Top of Page

Examine your skin with a mirror or another person's help. Look for unusual moles, spots, bumps, or sores that won't heal. Pay special attention to areas that get a lot of sun exposure: hands, arms, chest, neck (especially the back of the neck), face, ears, etc. Report any changes to your doctor.

When to Call a Health Professional

Top of Page

Call your doctor if you notice any unusual skin changes or growths, especially if they bleed and continue to change.

If your moles do not change over time, there is little cause for concern. If you have a family history of malignant melanoma, let your doctor know because you may be at higher risk for malignant melanoma. Call your doctor if you notice any of the following changes in a mole:

  • A symmetrical shape: One half does not match the other half.

  • B order irregularity: The edges are ragged, notched, or blurred.

  • C olour not uniform: Watch for shades of red and black, or a red, white, and blue mottled appearance.

  • D iameter: The mole is larger than a pencil eraser. (Harmless moles are usually smaller than this.)

  • Scaliness, oozing, bleeding, or spreading of pigment into surrounding skin.

  • Appearance of a bump or nodule on the mole, or any change in the appearance of the mole.

  • Itching, tenderness, or pain.


Top of Page