Most cancers have some quite obvious signs: lumps and bumps, tenderness, pain or sickness. But when it comes to skin cancer symptoms, they aren’t always as simple to identify. Skin cancer is growing slowly and often free of glaring warning signs. This means that the early detection of skin cancer can be tricky.
However, there are a few signs you can keep an eye on when performing a skin self-exam. These indicators let you know if a visit to your doctor might be a good idea.
By no means do these signs and symptoms automatically indicate skin cancer. Yet, you are advised to consult your doctor for any skin spots that seem suspicious.
In addition to the information here, use SkinVision as a supportive tool to check the spots you worry about and receive an instant risk indication.
Melanoma vs. Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer
There are two main categories of skin cancer: melanoma and non-melanoma. While melanoma is the most widely known and aggressive form of skin cancer, it is the rarest type. Non-melanoma skin cancers, such as squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma, are the most common forms of skin cancer. Melanoma begins in melanocytes cells in the deepest layer of skin, also known as the hypodermis or subcutaneous tissue, while non-melanoma cancers are found in the upper and middle layers of skin, called the epidermis and dermis, respectively.
Melanoma is considered the most dangerous form of skin cancer as it typically spreads to other areas of the body, including organs. Non-melanoma skin cancers are generally considered less hazardous as they are less likely to spread and can usually be treated with a simple surgery. Both types of cancer can occur anywhere on the body, but non-melanoma skin cancers are more likely to occur on areas of the body that are regularly exposed to the sun as opposed to more covered areas like inside your mouth.
How to tell the difference: what’s normal?
Now that we know the different types, how can we recognize them on our skin? Below we outline the main skin cancer symptoms to look for when you check your skin for suspicious spots.
Knowing what is normal can help you identify what isn’t. Paying attention to all the spots, moles, and lesions on your body allows you to track any possible changes over time.
Melanoma signs and symptoms
Melanoma appears on the skin as a new spot or growth or a change in an already existing mole.
A normal mole will be even in color, quite small and will have appeared during the early part of your life. Most importantly, a normal mole will stay exactly the same; it won’t change or evolve.
Know your ABCDEs
Dermatologists classify melanoma using the ABCDE method. This method shows you which signs to look out for when detecting melanoma.
The Melanoma Research Foundation provides a handy overview of the method you can reference when performing skin checks:
A – Asymmetrical shape
Melanoma lesions are often irregular, or not symmetrical, in shape. Benign moles are usually symmetrical.
B – Border
Typically, non-cancerous moles have smooth, even borders. Melanoma lesions usually have irregular borders that are difficult to define.
C – Color
The presence of more than one color (blue, black, brown, tan, etc.) or the uneven distribution of color can sometimes be a warning sign of melanoma. Benign moles usually have a single shade of brown or tan.
D – Diameter
Melanoma lesions are often greater than 6 millimeters in diameter (approximately the size of a pencil eraser).
E – Evolution
The evolution of your mole(s) has become the most critical factor to consider when it comes to diagnosing a melanoma. Knowing what is healthy for your body could save your life. If a mole has gone through recent changes in color or size, bring it to the attention of a dermatologist immediately.
If you notice one or more of these symptoms, contact your doctor immediately.
Something just looks a little odd
Your skin is always changing – in fact, it regenerates itself all the time. So, if you notice a spot that doesn’t go away over the course of a month, it means that this spot sits in the lower layers of your skin. These skin abnormalities should be checked out by a doctor.
It is a good idea to keep track of the size and shape of your moles so that you can show your doctor a timeline to help with diagnosis. SkinVision is ideal for this, as it enables you to detect signs of skin cancer in time and allows you to archive photos of your moles to track any possible changes.
Signs that your mole can be suspicious
If your mole starts to show some strange characteristics, it is probably the time to ask a doctor’s opinion. Visit your doctor if your mole:
- develops a crust or a scab
- sometimes bleeds
- is itchy
- feels tender
- is getting bigger or swelling
- is strangely shaped (ie. not round)
- has borders that are irregular
- includes lots of different colors or shades
- is bigger than the size of a pencil eraser in diameter
- has appeared recently (i.e. when you are an adult)
Non-melanoma skin cancer symptoms
While melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer, it is still important to pay attention to non-melanoma skin cancers and understand the forms they can take.
According to the UK National Health Service, one of the first non-melanoma skin cancer symptoms is a persisting lump or discolored patch on the skin that doesn’t heal after a few weeks and keeps progressing over months or even years. The two most common types of non-melanoma skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Find out how to identify these types of skin cancer below.
Basal cell carcinoma signs and symptoms
Basal cell carcinoma appears in several forms. While it rarely spreads to other areas of the body or vital organs, it can cause disfigurement if left untreated.
It most often appears as:
- a hard pearly, waxy looking lump with visible blood cells
- a red and scaly, irritated patch that can grow quite large on the chest or back
- an open sore that bleeds or becomes crusty
- a white, scar-like lesion (this form is rare)
- a pink growth with a slight indentation in the center
If you notice any of the above symptoms, visit a doctor for a thorough examination.
Squamous cell carcinoma signs and symptoms
Like basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma usually occurs because of repeated sun exposure over time. This skin cancer is a slow-developing skin cancer that can spread to other areas of the skin, although it is still considered uncommon to spread widely.
Squamous cell carcinoma normally takes the form of:
- wart-like bumps that often have crusted surfaces
- rough, scaly patches that may bleed
- an open sore that bleeds or develops a crust
- red, dome-like nodules
Bowen’s disease, also known as squamous cell carcinoma in situ, is an early form of squamous cell carcinoma. It usually appears as a red, itchy scaly patch that can often be confused for psoriasis or eczema. It is easily treated, but if left undiagnosed, it can pose a risk.
Other non-melanoma skin cancer symptoms
Less-often occurring non-melanoma skin cancers include keratoacanthomas, Merkel cell carcinoma, cutaneous lymphomas, Kaposi sarcoma, skin adnexal tumors, and sarcomas. These rare forms of skin cancer are treated differently than other forms and their symptoms vary depending on the cell where the skin cancer formed. Many of these skin cancer have similar symptoms and methods of detection to the skin cancers mentioned ealier. A doctor will be able to give you a firm diagnosis.
Bottom line – is your skin changing?
Being aware of your skin is probably the single most important thing you can do when it comes to detecting skin cancer symptoms early. So be sure to look out for changes in your moles, spots popping up or growing on your skin or any change in sensation that might indicate a problem. If you notice any of the above symptoms of skin cancer that persist for four weeks, visit your doctor. There’s a good chance it is nothing – but why put it off?