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 risk

Skin cancer symptoms

Non-melanoma skin cancer symptoms

An unusual skin growth or sore that doesn't go away may be the first indication of a non-melanoma skin cancer. Skin cancer may initially appear as a nodule, rash or irregular patch on the surface of the skin. These spots may be raised and may ooze or bleed easily. As the cancer grows, the size or shape of the visible skin mass may change and the cancer may grow into deeper layers of the skin. It may be difficult to differentiate one form of skin cancer from another, so consult a dermatologist if you notice suspicious or evolving marks on the skin.

Basal cell carcinomas on the head or neck may first appear as a pale patch of skin or a waxy translucent bump. You may see blood vessels or an indentation in the center of the bump. 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. These firm lumps are typically 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. Unlike a skin rash that goes away with time, these rough, lesion-like patches continue to develop slowly. This type of cancer is typically found on the head, neck, hands or arms, but they may also develop in other areas, such as the genital region or in scars or skin sores.

Merkel cell carcinomas may appear as red or flesh-colored moles that are raised and grow quickly. These small tumors usually appear on sun-exposed areas of the skin, such as the face, neck or scalp.  

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.

Skin cancer infographic

skin cancer infographic

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. Early diagnosis and intervention may improve the chances of overcoming the disease. Learn more about skin cancer types and treatment options.

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