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Skin cancers: Warning signs to look out for

November 2, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Dermatologists tell us to be aware of moles that change shape and color, but there are other warning signs of skin cancer to look for, too. They can be difficult-to-detect, pre-cancerous patches, often mistaken for breakouts or rashes.

Getting rid of pre-cancerous skin cells is something 84-year-old Morton Witz is quite used to. As a young man, Morton spent a lot of time at the ball park.

"I'm a devout Chicago Cub fan," he said.

Dermatologist Dr. Lisa Chipps says while many people know to look for odd-shaped or discolored moles, actinic keratosis, or AK, causes non-melanoma cancers such as squamous cell.

"It's always there in the same spot. It doesn't get better with topical steroids," Chipps said. "It doesn't go away."

You're more likely to get actinic keratosis if you have fair skin, you're out in the sun for long periods of time and if you've had a lot of sunburns as a child.

"If you leave them untreated, then they can evolve into squamous cell carcinomas," Chipps said.

They can spread to lymph nodes and other organs if you don't treat them. People with AK are most likely to acquire other forms of skin cancer as well.

The actinic keratosis is usually the first sign, there's been enough skin damage and sun damage to get these non-melanoma skin cancers later in life," Chipps said.

Chips freezes them off with liquid nitrogen, but there are other ways to treat larger areas of skin, like topical medications.

To prevent actinic keratosis, Chipps urges regular sunscreen use. Today, Morton always protects himself from the sun, but it took several brushes with skin cancer to convince him.

Because it can be difficult to tell which spots are pre-cancerous, it's best to have a dermatologist take a look at any spot or lesion that changes color, grows or bleeds.


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