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What's That Spot? A Photo Guide to Skin Cancer

  • Benign Mole

    Skin cancer can show up at any time, anywhere, and in any shape. That's why checking your body for suspicious spots and new moles should be done regularly, says Diane Madfes, MD, a Manhattan-based dermatologist and spokesperson for the Skin Cancer Foundation.

    This is what a benign mole can look like. In the following slides, you'll see three forms of skin cancer and what they might look like in early stages. And remember, even if you don't see your mole here, you should still have it checked out.

  • Basal Cell Carcinoma

    Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. Around 800,000 cases are diagnosed each year, and while it's easy to cure when caught early, 5 to 10 percent of cases are resistant to treatment.

    Basal cell carcinoma affects the deepest layer of the epidermis. Instead of metastasizing like melanoma, basal cell carcinoma attacks the surrounding tissue, making it less deadly, but heightening the chance for disfigurement.

    Where you'll find it:

    On the face, scalp, ears, neck, and other sun-exposed areas.

    What to look for:

  • Pearly sheen. "We always look for a pearly, translucent sheen," says Dr. Madfes. In early stages the cancer can be a pink or translucent bump, pearly around the edges. If you look closely, you should be able to see a cluster of individual blood vessels in the center.
  • Depression or laceration. Look for slight indention and raised edges.
  • A sore that doesn't heal. Basal cell carcinoma can also look like a scar or wound. Watch for any skin defect that persists.
  • A pimple that won't go away. Don't ignore it. "Pimples don't last long and shouldn't be around for more than a couple of weeks," say Dr. Madfes. Basal cell carcinoma can also heal and return several times in the same spot.
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma

    Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type of skin cancer and the second most aggressive. Squamous cells make up most of the epidermis and when cancerous they tend to destroy the surrounding tissue (which is why they can cause disfigurement too), but most cases aren't serious if they are found early enough.

    Where you'll find it:

    On the lower lip, the scalp, the rim of the ear and most other sun-exposed body parts. Plus, watch any areas where you've had burns, scars, sores, etc., because squamous cell carcinoma tends to develop in these weakened spots.

    What to look for:

  • Scaly, rough texture. Three words are often used to describe this form of cancer: crusty, bleeding, and ulcerated. If they apply to your mole, get it checked.
  • Sun-damaged areas. Squamous cell carcinoma is known for popping up around damaged, wrinkly, and freckled skin.