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Beauty isn't the only thing skin-deep.

Most of the skin-deep things we find on ourselves may not be beautiful, but neither are they anything to worry about--usually. Nor can we do much about most of them. Freckles, for instance, largely a product of heredity, are harmless. Liver spots have nothing to do with the liver; although they may be unsightly, they likewise are of no health consequence. Moles, of which most of us acquire a dozen or two by adulthood, are for the most part not precancerous (moles present at birth bear watching, however). Other skin growths, such as wart-like keratoses (that may be flat or elevated), may tend to itch or be unsightly; others, called dermatofibromas, may result from bites or other skin injuries that produce scarlike tissue of various colors. These, too, generally pose no health hazard.

On the other hand, the three types of common skin cancers--the basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas and melanoma--are worthy of our attention. The basal cell carcinoma is the most common and least dangerous skin cancer; because it does not spread, it can easily be treated by removal. Usually found on the head and neck due to sun exposure, the basal cell carcinoma may be scarlike tissue, a nodule that bleeds easily, an ulcer that doesn't heal, or just a red spot. Another sore-that-doesn't-heal lesion is the squamous cell carcinoma, often appearing on skin damaged by sun, radiation, or other type of burn. It can, however, spread to other parts of the body and should therefore be treated at its earliest stage.

Least common, but potentially most deadly, is melanoma, at one time a virtual death sentence when diagnosed. Although its occurrence has doubled in the past two decades, it can be successfully treated when diagnosed early. Only 25 percent of melanomas originate in moles; most are new growths that should always be viewed with suspicion, applying the ABCD method of diagnosis, as we had first explained in our August 1990 issue:

Assymetry: The two halves do not match on either side of an imaginary line drawn through the growth's middle in any direction.

Border: Not smooth; usually blurred or irregular.

Color: A mixture of colors, most commonly blue, black, brown, tan, red, and white.

Diameter: A melanoma usually grows to about one-quarter inch in diameter by the time it

Cancerous skin growths of any kind may be recognized by new or continuous growth; a rising above the skin; bleeding, crusting or other signs of deterioration; pain or itching; and change in consistency (hardening or softening). Any suspicious lesion should be referred to a physician--and if you think you have a melanoma, don't let your doctor just remove it. Insist that you be referred to a dermatologist, who should carefully remove it and send it to a lab for pathological analysis.
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Title Annotation:skin cancer diagnosis
Publication:Medical Update
Date:Apr 1, 1991
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