What are the symptoms of skin cancer?

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Perform routine self-examinations for skin cancer. Look for changes in the color, size, thickness, shape, or feel of a mole, freckle, or other mark. A new mole, or one that has irregular borders, has variable colors, or is larger than a quarter of an inch in diameter, should be examined by a doctor. Monthly skin self-exams and an annual total body screening by your doctor are important for the early detection of skin cancer.

Warning signs of skin cancer are any sore that bleeds, scabs, grows, or does not heal in a few weeks. Such sores are most likely to appear on the exposed parts of your body like your face, neck, head (especially if you are bald), and your hands and arms. A mole that bleeds or changes color or size must be examined immediately.

Dr. Ross M. Levy, MD
Dermatologist (Skin Specialist)

Skin cancer will often present as a spot on your skin that is changing in some way. It may be getting darker if it is a mole (brown spot), or it may be a sore that just hasn't ever healed. For moles, itching or bleeding can sometimes be a sign of skin cancer. A helpful algorithm is the "A, B, C, Ds." "A" stands for asymmetry (one side of the mole doesn't look like the other), "B" stands for irregular borders, "C" stands for different colors, and "D" stands for diameter (usually larger than a pencil eraser). If you are concerned, you should see a dermatologist for at least a baseline exam.

A change on the skin is the most common sign of skin cancer. This may be a new growth, a sore that doesn't heal, or a change in an old growth. Not all skin cancers look the same. Skin changes to watch for:

  • Small, smooth, shiny, pale, or waxy lump
  • Firm, red lump
  • Sore or lump that bleeds or develops a crust or a scab.
  • Flat red spot that is rough, dry, or scaly and may become itchy or tender
  • Red or brown patch that is rough and scaly.

Sometimes skin cancer is painful, but usually it is not. Checking your skin for new growths or other changes is a good idea. Keep in mind that changes are not a sure sign of skin cancer. Still, you should report any changes to your health care provider right away. You may need to see a dermatologist, a doctor who has special training in the diagnosis and treatment of skin problems.

This answer is based on source information from the National Cancer Institute.

Dr. Darria Gillespie, MD
Emergency Medicine Specialist

There are 2 kinds of skin cancer:

1. Melanoma, the most dangerous kind, which can occur anywhere on the body. This can include in places that you don’t always see easily, such as inside the nose and mouth. 

A melanoma may look like a birthmark or mole, but has a few distinguishing features:

  • asymmetry – one half different from the other half
  • border – may be uneven or jagged
  • color – may have more than 1 color
  • diameter – larger than the eraser at the end of a pencil
  • evolution – it’s size/shape/color change over time 

2. Non-melanoma can occur anywhere, but most often on sun-exposed areas (head, face, neck, back of hands, arms and legs).  A non-melanoma may be pink, red/swollen, peeling, may be bleeding or even look like an open sore, or be thick or crusty.

If you see any skin changes, know that it doesn’t always mean that it’s due to cancer, but you should still let your doctor know. 

Dr. Ellen E. Marmur, MD
Dermatologist (Skin Specialist)

Watch as Dr. Ellen Marmur, MD, discusses the symptoms of skin cancer.

Continue Learning about Skin Cancers

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.