How To Spot The Signs Of Skin Cancer

symptoms of skin cancer

Skin cancer is diagnosed in 9,500 people every single day in the United States alone, making it the country’s most common form of cancer. In fact, the sobering statistic that 1 in 5 Americans is likely to develop this form of cancer should be enough to make everyone more alert and aware.1 So how do you spot this abnormal growth of skin cells? First, you need to know that there are 3 types of skin cancers:

  • Basal cell carcinoma
  • Squamous cell carcinoma
  • Melanoma

All of these can be caused by sunburn or UV ray exposure. While the former are more common, melanomas are considered more dangerous.2 About 5.4 million nonmelanoma skin cancer cases were detected in 2012 in the United States. Estimates predict around 161,790 new cases of melanoma will be diagnosed in 2017 in the country.3


Spotting The Signs Of Basal Cell Carcinomas

Basal cell carcinomas, a nonmelanoma skin cancer, are cancerous growths in the basal cells, the deepest layer of the outer skin. They tend to develop in parts of your body that are exposed to sunlight. Here’s how you can tell if you have one. Most basal carcinomas take one of these forms:4

  • Flat yellow patch of skin: A patch of skin that’s paler than the surrounding area, often yellow and not unlike a scar.
  • Raised reddish patch: This may also have some associated itchiness.
  • Open sores: These sores refuse to heal or seem to heal before coming right back again.
  • Pink growths: These are lower in the middle and have edges that are raised. You may also notice the blood vessels in this area spread out like spokes from the center.
  • Pearly bumps: These could be red or pink and sometimes have little portions that are black, blue, or brown. The skin here is shiny and translucent like a pearl.

Watch Out For Fragile Skin


This form of skin cancer leaves the skin in that area quite fragile. So if you find yourself developing a bleed after a minor injury like a nick from shaving, you need to be watchful. Keep an eye out to see that it heals properly and doesn’t develop any of the other signs. Any cuts should heal in about a week – especially minor ones from shaving. If you’re concerned, go straight to your doctor to have it checked out.

Spotting The Signs Of Squamous Cell Carcinoma

The second most common form of skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma tends to occur more in light-skinned people, though dark-skinned people are also susceptible. Watch out for these signs:5 6 7

  • Thick, rough, scaly patches of skin
  • Red patches, growths, or lumps
  • Wart-like appearance
  • Open sores with a crusted surface and a raised border
  • Hard horny cap on the bump
  • Scaly appearance
  • Very tender to the touch and bleeding easily if you scratch or bump them

Spotting The Signs Of Melanoma

ABCDE of melanola: Symptoms of skin cancer

For easy recall, the medical community has come up with an easy-to-remember acronym “ABCDE” of symptoms or signs of melanoma, considered the deadliest.8

  • A = Asymmetry: Melanomas are not symmetric, so each half will look different.
  • B = Border: Unlike a harmless spot or mole, the edges tend to be poorly defined. The border is usually irregular and scalloped.
  • C = Color: These melanomas have varied colors from one region to the next. It could go from white, shades of tan, to brown, black, and even blue or red.
  • D = Diameter: Look for spots greater than 6 mm. However, be warned that there are also melanomas that are smaller.
  • E = Evolving: If the skin spot/lesion/mole looks different from all the others on your body, there are chances it could be a melanoma. Watch for changing shape, size, and color.

You should also be alert to sores that refuse to heal.

Changes To Existing Moles: A Warning Sign

Melanomas can sometimes develop in moles or in dark spots that resemble moles. Watch for changes like these to existing moles9:

  • Pigment spreading beyond the boundary of the mole into the skin surrounding it.
  • Swelling/redness beyond the outline of the mole.
  • Changes in how the surface of the mole looks. Any scaliness, bleeding, itchiness, oozing, pain, or tenderness are all cause for concern.
  • Appearance of a new bump or lump on the mole.