Skin Cancer Signs & Symptoms
Skin cancers—including melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma—often start as changes to your skin that are noticeable. They can be new growths or precancerous lesions—changes that are not cancer but could become cancer over time. Learning to spot the early warning signs can prevent serious issues in the future. Most types of skin cancer can be cured if found and treated early.
Because melanoma is a type of cancer that is likely to spread, catching it early can greatly improve your chance of being cured.
In general, keep an eye out for moles or any such skin blemishes that are changing, new, or in any way unusual. Melanomas can appear on parts of the body that are exposed to sun, as well as areas that stay covered. While this cancer can develop anywhere, in women it frequently shows up on the legs, and in men it frequently shows up on the torso of the body.
In particular, watch any moles for the “ABCDE” warning signs of melanoma. If you notice any of these symptoms, see your dermatologist.
- Asymmetry (A): Unlike a common mole, which tends to be symmetrical, one side of a melanoma doesn’t match the other.
- Border (B): Unlike the smooth edges of a common mole, melanoma borders appear uneven, possibly with notched or scalloped edges.
- Color (C): While moles are usually a consistent brown color, melanomas could have shades of tan, black, or brown. Red, blue, or white may also appear as melanoma grows.
- Diameter or Dark (D): If a lesion is as large as the diameter of a pencil eraser (1/4 inch) or if it appears unusually dark, it could be melanoma.
- Evolving (E): Changes in color, shape, or size, or new symptoms such as itching, crusting, or bleeding could all indicate melanoma.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma often appears as a slightly translucent bump on the skin, though it can take other forms. You may be able see a bit through the surface, and tiny blood vessels are often visible. In people with darker skin tones, the lesion may be darker but still somewhat translucent. Basal cell carcinomas can also look like open sores, red scaly patches, scar-like growths, or a brown, black, blue, or pink lesion. At times, basal cell carcinomas may ooze, crust, itch, or bleed. The lesions commonly appear in sun-exposed areas of the body. It’s important to note that basal cell carcinoma can look quite different from one person to another.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinomas can appear as rough, scaly patches that may crust or bleed. The skin around them usually shows signs of sun damage such as wrinkling, pigment changes, and loss of elasticity. They typically appear on sun-exposed skin, but they can occur anywhere—including the inside of your mouth, the bottoms of your feet, and on the genitals. Squamous cell carcinomas can also look like warts, sores, or firm, red nodules. They can also show up as growths that are raised at the edge with a lower area in the center that may itch or bleed.
Cutaneous T Cell and B Cell Lymphomas
Cutaneous lymphomas are not technically skin cancers, though they create symptoms that often appear primarily on the skin. T cells and B cells make up part of the white blood cells and immune system of the body, and when they grow or multiply abnormally, it can cause a type of cancer called lymphoma. Symptoms may include:
- Redness like a rash or sunburn
- Slightly raised or scaly round patches
- Pimple-like lesions, nodules, or lumps
- Flat lesions that are either raised or lowered