Skin Cancer Overview

Skin Cancer Symptoms

It's important to catch skin cancer early. This can be difficult because it doesn't cause pain in its early stages, but there are signs to be on the lookout for.

Basal cell carcinoma usually appears on the areas of the body that are exposed to the sun, such as the face, head, neck, arms and hands. This cancer appears as a shiny bump or nodule on the skin [source: University of Maryland Medicine]. It can also appear as a red patch, a scarred area or a pink colored growth. Watch out for an area of skin that is itchy, painful or inflamed and changes in color or texture [source: College of American Pathologists].

Squamous cell carcinoma is important to look out for because, unlike basal cell carcinoma, it can spread beyond the skin to organs. In its early form, it appears as rough or firm red bumps. Look for them on the face, lips, ears, scalp and backs of the hand [source: Rockoff]. They can also look scaly and flat and even crusty [source: Mayo Clinic].

The most important warning signs of basal and squamous cell cancers are a growth or spot that wasn't there before or one that is getting larger in a matter of months. A sore that won't heal within a few months is also a red flag [source: American Cancer Society].

Melanomas are distinctly different from the other two types of skin cancer. They appear as new moles or old moles that have changed shape and color. They are black or bluish black. In spotting melanomas it helps to remember ABCD:

  • The A stands for asymmetry. If the shape of one half of a mole doesn't match the other half, it could be melanoma.
  • The B is for border -- as in, the growth has irregular edges.
  • Color -- C -- is the next thing to look for. Most often, melanomas are dark, but occasionally they can be white, gray, pink, or red.
  • And finally, D stands for diameter. If there is a change in size, it may be melanoma. Melanoma growths are usually larger than the end of a pencil.

[source: National Cancer Institute]

Now that you know the symptoms of skin cancer, it is also important to learn about how to avoid them completely. Read on to learn about how to prevent skin cancer.