- Gibson Miller, a 24-year-old teacher in New York City, discovered that a “pimple” on her face was actually skin cancer.
- She noticed a spot under her left eye had been there for three years, a biopsy confirmed it was stage 1 basal cell carcinoma.
- Dermatologists explain when to get a suspicious spot checked out.
Gibson Miller, 24, noticed she had a spot under her left eye but assumed it was a zit. A year ago, she realized it hadn’t gone away and finally decided to see a doctor. Miller’s doctor took a biopsy—and that revealed her “pimple” was actually stage 1 basal cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer that usually appears as a semi-transparent bump on the skin.
“No one else would notice it. It was very small. It was pearlized,” the middle school teacher told TODAY. “I was going back and looking at old pictures. I had that spot for three years. But I didn’t really think about it until a year ago.”
She underwent a procedure known as Mohs surgery, which is commonly used to remove basal cell carcinomas, and then had to have stitches. Miller told KTVU-TV that she was “really lost because I didn’t know anything about this, I didn’t know anyone who had this.”
She has now been declared cancer-free and is making a point to talk to people about the importance of sun safety. “My new tagline: sunscreen is sexy. Everyone needs to wear it no matter what you do in the sun,” she said.
How common is it for skin cancer to look like a pimple?
Dermatologists see this fairly often. “Skin cancer can sometimes mimic a pimple or a blemish, since the first sign of skin cancer can be a red bump that doesn’t go away,” says Gary Goldenberg, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital.
In general, basal cell carcinoma (which Miller had) and squamous cell carcinoma, another form of skin cancer, can look like a pimple to the average person, Dr. Goldenberg says.
How can you tell if you have a pimple or skin cancer?
It’s not always obvious, but Dr. Goldenberg says there are a few signs that a “pimple” is something more serious:
- It spontaneously bleeds
- It keeps getting bigger
- Nothing comes out when you try to squeeze it
Still not sure what to look for? These skin cancer pictures show exactly what each type looks like.
When should you get a stubborn ‘pimple’ checked out?
In general, it’s a good idea to get a skin spot checked out if it lasts for more than two weeks, Dr. Goldenberg says. And, if you’re nervous about it, get it checked out sooner rather than later.
Keep in mind, though, that a persistent bump doesn’t necessarily mean that you have skin cancer. “A cyst is also a possibility,” Dr. Goldenberg says. Either way, see your dermatologist to know for sure.
Miller also now stresses the importance of having your spots checked regularly. “Everyone should get a full body skin test once a year,” she said. “You absolutely need to.”
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