Skin cancers can look very different. They might be
- a spot or sore
- a lump
- a red or dark patch
- itchy, crusty, bleeding
The earlier a skin cancer is identified, the easier it's to treat. So it's important you visit your GP as soon as possible if you notice a change in your skin.
Looking for signs of skin cancer
Non melanoma skin cancers tend to develop most often on skin that's exposed to the sun.
To spot skin cancers early check your skin regularly. It helps to know how your skin normally looks. That way, you'll notice any changes more easily.
The British Association of Dermatologists recommend checking monthly if you can. To thoroughly look at all your skin start from your head and finish at your toes.
To check areas you can’t see easily, you could try using a hand held mirror and reflect your skin onto another mirror. Or you could get your partner or a trusted friend to check. This is very important if you're regularly outside in the sun for work or leisure.
When checking make sure the room is lit well and that you're warm enough as you'll need to remove your clothes.
Also, have a camera and ruler or tape measure to hand. You can then take a picture of anything that doesn't look quite right. If you can it's a good idea to put a ruler or tape measure next to it when you take the photo. This can give you a more accurate idea about it's size and can help you tell if it's getting bigger. You can then show these pictures to your doctor when they see you.
Basal cell skin cancers
There are different types of basal cell skin cancers. These include:
- nodular basal cell skin cancer
- pigmented basal cell skin cancer
- morphoeic basal cell skin cancer - also known as sclerosing or infiltrating basal cell skin cancer
- superficial basal cell skin cancer
Nodular basal cell cancer
Nodular basal cell cancers can look see through (translucent) and shiny. You can often also see their blood vessels. Sometimes they have a sore (ulcerated) area and it may also have fluid filled sacs (cystic).
Pigmented basal cell cancer
Pigmented basal cell cancers have dark areas often brown, blue or grey in colour. It can look like warts or sometimes melanoma.
Morphoeic basal cell cancer
Pronounced mor-fee-ic, this type of basal cell skin cancer may look like a sore area on the skin that doesn’t heal. It might look skin coloured, waxy, like a scar or thickened area of skin that's very slowly getting bigger. You might also see their blood vessels.
Squamous cell skin cancers
Squamous cell skin cancer can vary in how they look. They usually occur on areas of skin exposed to the sunlight like the scalp or ear.
Thanks to Dr Charlotte Proby for her permission and the photography.
You should see your doctor if you have:
- a spot or sore that doesn't heal within 4 weeks
- a spot or sore that hurts, is itchy, crusty, scabs over, or bleeds for more than 4 weeks
- areas where the skin has broken down (an ulcer) and doesn't heal within 4 weeks, and you can't think of a reason for this change
Your doctor can decide whether you need any tests.