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Sun spots vs skin cancer: when to see a doctor

Physical Health · Jul 19, 2021

Summer is here and there’s no better time to get outside and enjoy the sunshine and warmer temperatures. We know the importance of applying sunscreen regularly and wearing a hat, but it’s equally important to look out for any irregularities on your skin to rule out skin cancer, specifically melanoma. While melanoma occurs predominantly in people with lighter skin, those with darker colored skin can develop it too.

Early detection: from A to E

The Canadian Skin Cancer Foundation recommends you look out for the following characteristics of the moles on your skin, which could indicate a serious skin condition:

A = Asymmetry – one half is unlike the other

B = Border – blurry or jagged edges

C = Colour – more than one shade or colour

D = Diameter – greater than six millimetres  

E = Evolution – if a mole or birthmark changes in size, shape or colour, it might be suspicious

We recommend you consult a doctor if you have skin discoloration with any of those features, or if you notice any concerning changes in your skin, including:

  • A sore that doesn’t heal or comes back after healing

  • A mole or sore that oozes, bleeds or is crusty

  • A growth or area that is itchy, irritated or sore

  • Rough or scaly red patches

  • Small, smooth and shiny lumps that are pearly white, pink or red

  • Pale or yellow flat areas that look like scars

  • Raised lumps that indent in the centre

Learn more about early detection of skin cancer at https://www.canadianskincancerfoundation.com/early-detection/.

Self-assessment

The Canadian Cancer Society offers some helpful advice on scanning your skin throughout the year:

  1. Check your skin in a well-lit room. Use a mirror so you can look closely at your entire body.

  2. Raise your arms and look at the right and left sides of your body in the mirror. Check your underarm areas and both sides of your arms. Look at your hands, each finger, between your fingers and your fingernails.

  3. Look at the back, front and sides of your legs. Look as well at the tops and soles of your feet, toenails and the spaces between your toes. Also, check your genital area and between your buttocks.

  4. Examine your face, neck, back of your neck and scalp. Use a hand mirror and full-length mirror, along with a comb, to check your scalp.

  5. Lastly, ask someone you trust to help check areas that are hard for you to see.

Medical care: what to expect

If you are worried about any sun spots or moles, your doctor will do a skin exam to check the specific area and look for any signs of skin cancer. You may be referred to a specialist, such as a dermatologist if necessary. Your doctor may also do a skin biopsy to check for cancer. 

Remember that most moles, birthmarks and freckles are normal, but being aware and proactive can make all the difference if you do have a serious skin issue. 

Want a medical opinion on a mole, or sun spot? Our doctors can do an assessment over a virtual consultation! If you don’t have a family doctor, or don’t have access to one, consider seeing a locally-licensed doctor on TELUS Health MyCare

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