Skin Cancer Signs and Symptoms to Spot Early On
Medically Reviewed by Carolin Schneider, MD
Skin cancer is one of the most common types of cancer. In the United States, it’s estimated that doctors diagnose over 100,000 new skin cancer cases each year. Some types of skin cancer are more dangerous than others, but if you have a spot on your skin that you’re concerned about, it’s a good idea to have a healthcare professional take a look at it. To boost your own awareness, learn more about some of the most common types of skin cancer and what they often look like.
Basal Cell Carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma usually appears on areas of your skin that get a lot of exposure to the sun, such as your face, neck, back, hands and arms. It most often occurs in people over age 50, but younger people can develop this type of skin cancer if they’re frequently exposed to sunlight or ultraviolet radiation. People may be more susceptible to basal cell carcinoma if they have light hair and eyes or a history of skin cancer in the family. Having severe sunburns as a child also makes you more likely to develop this type of cancer.
Basal cell carcinoma doesn’t always show up on people’s skin the same way. Sometimes it looks like a pearly, flesh-colored bump or a reddish patch or pimple that just doesn’t heal. Sometimes basal cell carcinoma shows up as a scaly sore that bleeds a little, heals up and reappears. If they’re left untreated, these sores can remain open on your skin.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma also most often appears on skin that’s exposed to the sun — and on which people often forget to use sunscreen — including your ears and scalp. People with darker skin tones are more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma in areas that don’t receive much sun exposure. People who are fair-skinned, have a history of sunburns or have a weakened immune system have a higher chance of getting this kind of cancer.
Squamous cell carcinoma usually shows up as a hard, scaly, red patch or bump. Sometimes the scales peel off and start to bleed. They might appear to heal, only to return again. Changes in moles or warts can also be signs of this cancer. When it appears on your lip, it takes the form of a hard patch. These patches are sometimes tender to the touch, and they can spread if you don’t get treatment.
Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. It can develop anywhere on your body, including areas that never get sun. Doctors regard it as the most dangerous skin cancer type because it can spread to other parts of your body quickly. It appears most often on people’s torsos, legs, faces and necks. People with darker skin tones are more likely to develop melanoma on their hands or the soles of their feet.
Because melanoma often looks like a mole, it’s important for you to know the location of any moles you already have. It can also look like a dark spot that has irregular borders or, if it develops on your foot, like a bruise that just doesn’t heal. Melanomas tend to grow quickly. Keep an eye on any new skin growths that seem to be spreading.
Skin Cancer Prevention and Treatment Tips
The best way to prevent any kind of skin cancer is to limit the amount of sunlight you’re exposed to. Wearing sunscreen that has an SPF of at least 30 can help, too, especially if it protects against both UVA and UVB rays. UV rays are often strongest during the middle of the day, so it can help to stay indoors at that time. If you need to be outside during the early afternoon, wear protective clothing such as long sleeves and a hat. Using tanning beds can also greatly increase your risk of getting skin cancer.
If you see any changes on your skin, like a new mole or bump, have a medical professional look at it. There’s a variety of treatments that might be suitable. But, what’s best for you depends on the type of cancer you have, its location and its size. Treatments range from surgeries to medications to radiation that can stop the cancer cells from growing.
While the various types of skin cancer typically form on areas of your skin that receive the most sun exposure, skin cancer can also develop almost anywhere on your body. The most common sign of skin cancer is the appearance of a new growth on your skin. If you develop any new spot or mass on your skin that doesn’t heal on its own after about four weeks, have a doctor examine it as soon as possible.
“Basal cell skin cancer,” MedlinePlus
“Basal cell carcinoma – Symptoms and causes,” Mayo Clinic
“Squamous cell skin cancer,” Medline Plus
“Squamous cell carcinoma of the skin – Symptoms and causes,” Mayo Clinic
“What Is Melanoma Skin Cancer? | What Is Melanoma?,” American Cancer Society
“Cancer Statistics Center,” American Cancer Society