Skin Cancer Symptoms

The symptoms of skin cancer vary according to the precise type of cancer involved. However, they all start as unusual marks on the skin that grow, becoming larger over time. Exposure to UV radiation is also a major factor in triggering the development of most types of skin cancer.

Therefore, if you expose your skin to significant amounts of UV radiation, or have done so in the past, it is important that you regularly examine your skin for unusual marks. Marks that do not disappear again within about a month might indicate that some form of cancer is developing, and you should therefore seek medical advice if you find anything. There are, however, many other types of marks that are not cancers, especially in older people, so if you do find something, it probably won’t turn out to be cancer, but if you are in any doubt you should seek medical advice just in case.

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)

This type typically develops as a small lump that can be smooth and pearly or look waxy. It can also be a firm, red lump or look like a flat, red spot that is scaly and crusty. It can be itchy and can sometimes bleed. It can also show signs of healing, but never quite heals fully.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)

This type is mainly found on the face, bald scalps, arms, back of hands and lower legs – those areas that receive most exposure to sunlight. It usually has a scaly appearance, sometimes with a hard, horny cap, and can be tender to touch.


This type usually appears as an abnormal new mole, and can either develop from an existing mole or, more often, in unmarked skin. It can often be difficult to distinguish between a melanoma and a normal mole – use the ABCD checklist:

  • Asymmetry. Normal moles are usually approximately symmetrical in shape; a melanoma is likely to be asymmetrical or irregular.
  • Border. A normal mole usually has a well-defined border between it and the surrounding skin; a melanoma often has an irregular border with jagged edges.
  • Colour. Normal moles are usually a uniform dark brown colour; melanomas tend to be multi-coloured, with varying shades of brown sometimes mixed with black, red, pink, white or bluish tints.
  • Diameter. Normal moles are usually 6 mm in diameter or less (about the diameter of the body of a pencil); melanomas are often more than 7 mm in diameter.

A melanoma can also sometimes be itchy, develop a crust, or bleed. These are less common symptoms, but ones that should not be ignored.

Normal moles can sometimes be raised up from the surrounding skin, and can also be hairy

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