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Skin cancer symptoms

This page tells you about the symptoms of skin cancer. If you are looking for information about skin cancer that develops from abnormal moles (melanoma) this is not the right section for you. There is separate information about the symptoms of melanoma.

You can find the following information

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Skin cancer symptoms

Non melanoma skin cancer occurs most often on skin that is exposed to the sun. The symptoms of non melanoma skin cancer may be similar to symptoms of other non cancerous skin conditions. You should show your GP any area of skin that is damaged and does not heal up.

Skin cancers can appear as

  • A spot or sore that does not heal within 4 weeks
  • A spot or sore that continues to itch, hurt, scab, crust or bleed for more than 4 weeks
  • Areas where the skin has broken down or forms an ulcer, you can't think of a reason for this change, and it does not heal within 4 weeks.

Basal cell skin cancers look like a small, slow growing, shiny, pink or red lump. They can also look like red scaly patches. If left, basal cell skin cancers tend to become crusty, bleed or develop into an ulcer. They are most common on the face, scalp, ears, hands, shoulders and back.

Squamous cell skin cancers are usually pink lumps. They may have hard or scaly skin on the surface. They may feel tender. They can bleed easily and develop into an ulcer. They are most often found on the face, neck, lips, ears, hands, shoulders, arms and legs.

Bowen’s disease is a very early form of skin cancer. It usually looks like a red patch and may be itchy. It can appear anywhere on the body, but is most commonly found on the lower leg.

We have pictures of basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers on the next page in this section.
 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the about skin cancer section.

 

 

Checking your skin for signs of skin cancer

The symptoms of non melanoma skin cancer can usually be seen quite easily. They tend to occur most often on skin that is exposed to the sun. It will help you to spot skin cancers early if you are aware of how your skin normally looks. That way, you will recognise any changes more easily. Remember to get your partner or someone else you trust to check your back or other areas that you can’t easily see. This is very important if you sunbathe a lot or if you regularly work outside without a shirt on.

There is also information about changes to look for with the skin cancer that develops from abnormal moles (melanoma) on the page about symptoms of melanoma.

 

Where non melanoma skin cancers usually develop

Skin cancers can develop on or near other non cancerous (benign) skin growths. You should show your doctor any area of your skin that is damaged and does not heal up.

The symptoms of non melanoma skin cancer may be similar to symptoms of other skin conditions. It is worth having any symptom checked by your GP. Your doctor won’t think you are bothering them for something trivial. They can decide whether your symptoms need to be investigated further.

 

How skin cancers can appear

Skin cancers can appear as

  • A spot or sore that does not heal within 4 weeks
  • A spot or sore that continues to itch, hurt, scab, crust or bleed for more than 4 weeks
  • Areas where the skin has broken down or become an ulcer, you can't think of a reason for this change, and it does not heal within 4 weeks

An ulcer is an area that is breaking down and begins to get deeper. This can be called erosion.

Basal cell skin cancers look like a small, slow growing, shiny, pink or red lump. They can also look like red scaly patches. If left, basal cell skin cancers tend to become crusty, bleed, or develop into an ulcer. They are commonest on the face, scalp, ears, hands, shoulders and back.

Squamous cell skin cancers are usually pink lumps. They may have hard or scaly skin on the surface. They are often, but not always, tender. They can bleed easily and develop into an ulcer. They are most often found on the face, neck, lips, ears, hands, shoulders, arms and legs.

You can see pictures of basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers on the next page in this section.

 

Bowen’s disease

This is a very early form of skin cancer. It usually looks like a red patch that may be itchy. It can appear anywhere on the skin. It is most commonly found on the lower leg, particularly in older women. But it can also develop on the moist membranes of the body. Moist membranes means soft wet skin similar to the skin on the inside of your mouth. Bowen's disease may appear as a white patch in the mouth or a red patch in the genital area.

 

More information

The earlier a cancer is picked up, the easier it is to treat it. And this increases the chances of the treatment being successful. So it is important that you go to your GP as soon as possible if you notice symptoms.

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Updated: 8 May 2013