Skin cancer that looks like warts

Skin cancer can take many forms. While most people know to watch out for abnormal-looking moles, other symptoms may go undetected because they look like other common skin blemishes, such as a freckle or warts. Below we highlight the types of skin cancer that can look similar to a wart and some tips for how to tell the difference.
Skin cancer that looks like warts

Non-melanoma skin cancers that can look like warts

Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type of skin cancer. It forms when squamous cells begin to grow uncontrollably in the top layers of the skin, called the epidermis. In most cases, it is caused by repeated exposure to UV rays over time.

Squamous cell carcinoma has many symptoms, one of which is very wart-like. Squamous cell carcinoma usually first appears as:

  • a red, scaly, sometimes crusty plaque of skin that may get bigger and develop a sore
  • a red, hard domed bump that won’t go away
  • a wart-like growth that may bleed or crust

The growths may also be pink and dry and may itch or burn. Squamous cell carcinoma typically shows up on areas of the skin that are exposed to the sun, such as the face, ears, lips, arms, legs, and tops of hands. It usually develops slowly but can spread to the lymph nodes and other organs if left untreated. If caught early though, it is highly treatable.

Another rarer type of non-melanoma skin cancer that can also be confused for a wart is basal cell carcinoma. It often appears as a small pearly bump that may sometimes resemble a wart.

Learn more about basal cell carcinoma.

How to tell the difference

Warts are usually harmless growths caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). They are typically removed to prevent them from spreading to other areas of the body, but, in most cases, they don’t have life-threatening effects like skin cancer. The main differentiator to keep in mind is that warts are generally painless and won’t crust or bleed, while skin cancer usually will. If you have a bump that is over 6 mm in size and hasn’t gone away in over six weeks, it could be a sign of cancer, especially if it crusts or bleeds and is on the neck, face, or other areas of the body regularly exposed to the sun.

What does a normal mole look like?

When in doubt, get a biopsy

If you have any suspicions about a wart-like growth on your body, go to your doctor or dermatologist immediately to get it checked out. Only a biopsy can definitively say if it is cancer or not. Stay vigilant and check your skin regularly to stay on top of any developments that could be a sign of something more dangerous.

Common skin lesions

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