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Skin cancer symptoms

Because many skin cancers develop where they can be seen, there is a good chance of catching them early. Regular examination of the skin for any new or unusual growths, or changes in existing moles is critical. If you find anything suspicious, you should discuss it with your primary care physician, a dermatologist (skin doctor) or a health care professional who is qualified to recognize the signs of skin cancer and diagnose the disease.

cancer symptoms

Skin cancer symptoms

Non-melanoma skin cancer symptoms

While symptoms of basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma vary, an unusual skin growth, bump or sore that doesn't go away may be the first indication of a non-melanoma skin cancer.

Basal cell carcinomas on the head or neck may first appear as a pale patch of skin or a waxy translucent bump. It may be possible to see blood vessels in the center of the bump or there may be an indentation in the center. If the carcinoma develops on the chest it may look more like a brownish scar or flesh-colored lesion. As the cancer develops, it may bleed if injured or ooze and become crusty in some areas.

Squamous cell carcinomas may also develop as a lump on the skin. However, these firm lumps may be rough on the surface, unlike the smooth and pearly appearance of a basal cell carcinoma. If a nodule doesn't form, the cancer may develop more like a reddish scaly patch. Whereas a skin rash may go away with time, these rough lesion-like patches remain and continue to develop slowly. This type of cancer typically is found on the head, neck, hands or arms, but they can also develop in other areas, such as the genital region or in scars or skin sores.

However, both basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas may also develop as a flat area that does not look much different from normal skin, so it is important be aware of the symptoms of skin cancer and discuss any changes with your doctor.

Melanoma symptoms

Melanoma skin cancer signs include new spots on the skin, or a change in size, shape or color of an existing mole. The ABCD rule is another way to recognize abnormal growths:

  • A is for Asymmetry: A mole that has an irregular shape, or two different looking halves.
  • B is for Border: Irregular, blurred, rough or notched edges may be signs of skin cancer.
  • C is for Color: Most moles are an even color – brown, black, tan or even pink – but changes in the shade or distribution of color throughout the mole can signal melanoma.
  • D is for Diameter: Moles larger than ¼ inch (6 mm, the size of a pencil eraser) across may be suspect, although some melanomas may be smaller than this.

Other potential signs of melanoma in a mole include:

  • A sore that does not heal
  • Pigment, redness or swelling that spreads outside the border of a spot to the surrounding skin
  • Itchiness, tenderness or pain
  • Changes in texture or scales, oozing or bleeding from an existing mole

Checking for skin cancer symptoms

Regular examination of the skin for any new or unusual growths, or changes in the size, shape or color of an existing spot, is key to finding and treating skin cancers early. If you find anything suspicious, you should discuss it with your primary care physician or a dermatologist.

While many skin cancers develop in areas exposed to the sun, they may also develop in areas that are usually hidden from the sun. It is important to examine all of these areas. In addition to examining the legs, trunk, arms, face and neck, it is important to look for signs of skin cancer in the areas between the toes, underneath nails, palms of the hands and soles of the feet, genitals and even the eyes.

Understanding cancer symptoms

These symptoms may be attributed to a number of conditions other than cancer. If you notice any cancer signs or symptoms, it's important to visit your doctor for an accurate diagnosis.

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