Does skin cancer look like eczema causes?

Susan Tofte, assistant professor of dermatology at Oregon Health & Science University, added that skin cancers can sometimes be scaly, tender, ulcerate and bleed, much like severe eczema, so it’s important to relieve eczema-related inflammation as much as possible in order to effectively screen for skin cancer. But everyone, she says, should look for skin cancer regardless of whether they have eczema.

Look for anything out of the ordinary to you, or that’s evolved since your last self-check. If you see something that fits this profile, talk to a knowledgeable healthcare provider as soon as possible.

If you’ve received a diagnosis of basal cell skin cancer or squamous cell skin cancer, you may be able to treat the condition without surgery and without a risk of surgical scarring. Ask your doctor to find out if Image-Guided Superficial Radiotherapy is right for you. While you’re here, find out how it works.

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The challenge? You might need a couple mirrors and a loved one to help you. And, of course, if you notice anything that’s new or changing, you’ll want to contact your care provider right away.

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Skin cancer & skin of color

So, is your new skin lesion eczema or skin cancer? Although it’s always advisable to have new skin growths checked out by a dermatologist, the following visual and physical cues can help you make an educated guess:

Although skin cancer can often look similar regardless of skin tone, Dr. Ungar noted that individuals with darker skin are more likely to develop skin cancer on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, as well as under toenails and fingernails, as opposed to on sun-exposed areas where skin cancer tends to appear on lighter skinned people (i.e. on the scalp, ears, face, neck, chest, shoulders, forearms, or lower legs.)

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To help yourself screen for any irregularities, examine your skin regularly (monthly, as per the Skin Cancer Foundation) and look for anything that’s different or suspicious. Self exams are the most practical way to find skin cancer early, says the American Academy of Dermatology, when it’s still highly treatable.

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How to perform a skin cancer self-exam

Squamous cell skin cancer is less aggressive than melanoma, but more likely to spread than basal cell skin cancer. Early detection and treatment improves outcomes for all types of skin cancer, so don’t hesitate to schedule a screening with your dermatologist.

To help prevent skin cancer, Tofte reminds us to use sunscreen or sun protective clothing and hats, saying: “It’s just good practice for preventing damage from the sun which may lead to skin cancer.” If you are at particular risk, such as if there’s a history of skin cancer in your family member or you have naturally pale skin that burns easily (particularly with red hair and blue or green eyes), she recommends a professional skin cancer screening yearly. Want to learn more about what skin cancer can look like? The Skin Cancer Foundation and American Cancer Foundation have useful pictures. But remember, everyone’s skin looks different, if you see something concerning or atypical, even if it doesn’t match skin cancer photos, get it checked by a professional. Finding and treating skin cancer early can save your life.

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According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), rates of skin cancer are on the rise in the United States. The good news is that having eczema does not necessarily make you more likely to develop skin cancer. However, severe eczema – especially when it’s actively flaring – can sometimes make it harder to recognize the early warning signs of certain types of skin cancer. This means that if you have eczema, getting to know your own skin, doing regular screenings and following up with your dermatologist if you see anything unusual is particularly important.

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Expert advice on what you need to know

This is what to watch for:

Different types of skin cancers appear very different from one another, so it’s important to be familiar with the various types. Of all the skin cancers that could look like eczema, the most common are squamous cell skin cancer and basal cell skin cancer. Neither type of cancer will always present as a reddish, scaly patch that resembles a rash but either could present in this way. That’s why vigilance is so important.

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Discoid Eczema

“Though skin cancer typically looks similar for people with and without eczema,” said Dr. Benjamin Ungar, assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Medical Center, “active eczema may ‘hide’ skin cancers to some extent, obscuring the ability to detect them. This is particularly true for sun-exposed areas such as the face, neck and forearms.”

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Step-by-step self exam

Eczema can sometimes be confused with skin cancer, because of the symptoms associated with the condition. Scaly patches, blisters, and other symptoms can alarm people with eczema, especially if these symptoms appear later in life. Only a dermatologist can be sure if you’re dealing with eczema or skin cancer. Keeping up with routine skin cancer screenings won’t treat eczema, but it can give you peace of mind going forward.

Distinguishing eczema from psoriasis can also be helpful when you are working toward a diagnosis. While both types of non-cancerous skin conditions may present as red, scaly patches of skin, eczema is more likely to present with brown-gray coloration, uneven borders, and pustules.

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