It’s May, which is skin cancer awareness month, so you’ve probably heard a lot about preventing skin cancer by using sunscreen everyday. But hopefully you’re also hearing about preventing skin cancer by getting regular exams to discover skin cancer early - when it’s just a pre-cancer - which is the time at which its easiest to cure.
But what exactly are pre-cancers?
Simply put: A pre-cancer is an abnormal spot that's not yet dangerous but probably will become a skin cancer if not removed.
But let’s now discuss the three types of skin cancers and their pre-cancerous forms.
The first type of skin cancer is a Basal Cell Cancer, which actually doesn’t have a pre-cancerous form. Luckily, it’s also the least dangerous type of skin cancer because it doesn’t travel to other parts of your body.
The second type of skin cancer is Squamous Cell Carcinoma and its pre-cancerous form is called an actinic keratosis. Let me explain this name.
Actinic just means related to sunlight. Keratosis means thickening of the upper “keratin” layer of the skin.
So an Actinic Keratosis is a pre-cancerous sun induced thickening of the upper layer of skin. Given enough time, an actinic keratosis usually becomes a squamous cancer. It’s usually small, less than ½ inch, pale pink, and sometimes with little red dots, flaky and can even feel sandpapery.
The third skin cancer is Melanoma and its pre-cancerous form is a Dysplastic Nevus. Dysplastic means irregular growing, and nevus is a technical term for moles and birthmarks… so a Dysplastic Nevus is an irregular growing and looking mole. They’re tan to brown, but sometimes almost black and usually have irregular borders. They can be match-head size or even up to ½ inch.
So both Actinic Keratoses and Dysplastic Nevi are pre-cancers that can become skin cancers. They both can be identified early by your Dermatologist if you get regular skin exams. And they can also be removed to prevent you from getting an actual skin cancer.
Now THAT’S a great form of preventative medicine.