The majority of skin cancer cases occur in the “obvious” locations – those places that receive the greatest exposure to the sun like the face, shoulders, arms, and legs. However, these are not the only places where you can get skin cancer. Melanoma, one of the most severe forms of the disease, is often the best at hiding, so it’s really important to understand where and how to check your skin for signs of cancer.
There are three main forms of skin cancer – basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and melanoma. BCC and SCC are often referred to collectively as non-melanoma skin cancers. While they are still malignant forms of cancer, they are significantly slower moving than melanoma. Melanoma is one of the most common forms of the disease. It occurs due to damage to the pigment-producing cells called melanocytes. When cellular damage is unrepaired, it leads to mutation. Rarer forms of skin cancer include Merkel cell tumors and dermatofibrosarcoma protruberans.
Regardless of what type of skin cancer you have, early diagnosis and treatment significantly reduce your risk for disfiguration, scarring, serious health concerns, and even death. The key may be to visit a dermatologist for preventive exams and performing regular self-exams at home.
So, Where Does Skin Cancer Affect the Body?
The majority of cases of skin cancer affects the face, neck, shoulders, arms, and legs that typically receive the greatest sun exposure. Some other areas you may not think to check include:
1 – On the Eyelids & Around the Eyes
Most people don’t put sunscreen on the skin that surrounds their eyes because it can lead to burning and watering if the products get into their eyes. Wearing sunglasses and sun hats can help protect the skin around your eyes from the sun. However, you should carefully examine the skin around your eyes during skin cancer self-exams.
2 – Fingernails & Toenails
The skin around and beneath the fingernails and toenails can be exposed to UV rays from the sun, but one thing may people don’t think about is the UV lights used to dry nail polish. If you regularly receive manicures and pedicures, you may be increasing your risk for skin cancer around your nails. Make sure to check for changes to the soft tissue around your nails, especially if you are dedicated to your regular mani/pedi appointments.
3 – The Scalp
While most people think to check their head and neck around the hairline for signs of skin cancer, the scalp beneath a full head of hair doesn’t get checked as often. After a day spent outside with the sun beating down, the sensitive skin of your scalp may be at high risk for cancer. You can use your hands to feel for changes in the texture of your scalp as well as for any lumps or bumps. You may also want to ask your barber or hair stylist to check for any scalp discoloration.
4 – Genitals
While the sensitive skin around the genitals is not often exposed to direct sunlight, many forms of skin cancer, including melanoma, can spread to these areas. During gynecologic exams or regular physicals, a medical professional can help screen for the warning signs of skin cancers in the genital area.
5 – Ear Canal
There are a number of different forms of cancer that can impact the outer, middle, and inner ear. Skin cancer is most often found on the earlobes and around the outside of the ear. The ear canal, that connects the outer and middle ear, can also be exposed to the UV rays that lead to skin cancer. If you notice changes in your hearing, feel that your ears are clogged, feel lumps or bumps, or notice changes in the color of the ear canal, you may need to seek a professional diagnosis.
6 – Between Toes or Fingers
Another area that often gets overlooked in screening for skin cancer is the connective tissue between the toes and fingers. Lumps, discoloration, and changes in texture that may be indicative of skin cancer can go unnoticed in these small, partially hidden areas.
7 – The Bottom of Your Feet
The bottoms of your feet are at risk for skin cancer, but when is the last time you took a look at the skin on the sole or heel of your foot? Most people don’t have much cause to take a look, and skin cancer that affects this area can often go undiagnosed and spread quickly, even becoming life-threatening.
8 – Palms of Your Hand
Like the bottoms of your feet, skin cancer on the palms of your hands may not be something you consider, but if it’s not detected and treated in the early stages, it can spread rapidly.
9 – On the Uvea
Melanoma develops from pigment-making cells, melanocytes, and is much more commonly found in the skin. However, a rare form of melanoma can actually develop inside the eye in the Uvea. The cells in this part of the eye produce the same types of melanocytes found in skin, which can lead to melanoma. Uvea melanomas typically begin as dark spots on the eyes.
10 – Behind the Ears
The skin around the back of the ears is another often overlooked part of the body that may receive high amounts of UV exposure. It’s more difficult to check these areas, so many patients receive diagnosis of these forms of skin cancer in late stages when they are more difficult to treat.
Where to Look for Skin Cancer & How to Perform a Self-Exam
You should carefully look for skin cancer in all of the areas we discussed above as well as any other parts of the skin that are exposed to UV rays. Each form of skin cancer has its own unique warning signs, but most forms present as lumps, lesions, freckles, or moles that are unusual in some way. To determine whether or not you’re dealing with cancer, you should keep in mind the ABCs of skin cancer:
- A – Asymmetry – half of a mole, freckle, or lesion is different from the other half
- B – Borders – the edges of the affected area are uneven or blurred
- C – Color – a mole, freckle, or lesion is unevenly colored or has several different colors, including browns, tans, reds, blues, and black
- D – Diameter – any affected area greater than 6 mm or the size of a pencil eraser
- E – Evolving – the area is raised, grows, spreads, or changes over time
Skincare Safety Tips
To reduce your risk for skin cancer, keep the following in mind:
- Wear a broad-spectrum sunblock with a minimum sun protection factor (SPF) of 30, reapplying at least every 2 hours.
- Help young children with applying and reapplying their sunscreen to ensure protection.
- Sun rays are strongest between 10 am and 4 pm, so avoid the sun during this time or take extra precautions to protect your skin, including staying in the shade and wearing protective clothing.
- Hats and sunglasses can help to protect your face, head, and neck from the sun.
Looking to Visit a Dermatologist for your Yearly Skin Examination?
Yearly skin exams by a skilled dermatologist are also important, especially if your family has a history of skin cancers or you have experienced severe sunburn or skin damage in the past. If you want to learn more about caring for your skin or schedule a screening appointment, contact U.S. Dermatology Partners to get started today. We have multiple locations throughout the country, so fill out our simple online form to get in touch with us. One of our local team members will reach out to you shortly to answer your questions or schedule an appointment for you to visit us soon.
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