Signs and symptoms of skin cancer
This information is about symptoms of the common types of skin cancer, called basal cell carcinomas (BCCs) and squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) of the skin.
BCCs and SCCs both can vary in how they look. They are usually painless and grow slowly. But sometimes they may grow quickly. They can appear anywhere on your body.
BCCs are more likely to develop on skin that is regularly exposed to the sun, especially on the face, head and neck.
BCCs may appear as:
- smooth and pearly-white
- a firm, red lump or may look sunken in the middle
- a pearly brown or black lump if you have darker skin
- a flat, red spot that is scaly and crusty
- a pale non-healing scar.
BCCs may also:
- begin to heal but never completely heal
- feel itchy and bleed sometimes
- develop a crust or scab
- develop into a painless ulcer.
SCCs usually develop in areas that have been damaged by sun exposure.
In people with pale skin, they are mainly found on the face and neck, bald scalps, shoulders and arms, back of hands and lower legs.
In people with darker or black skin, SCCs are more likely to affect areas that have less, or no direct sun exposure. These include the lower legs, torso, genitals and areas where there has been long-term scarring – for example, after a burn to the area.
- look scaly
- have a hard, crusty scab
- look pink or red
- have a raised area of skin
- feel tender to touch
- bleed sometimes.
If you notice anything unusual on your skin, make an appointment to show it to your GP. It might help to take a photograph of anything unusual, so you can check for any changes. Remember there are many other skin conditions that are not cancer, especially in older people.
It can be more difficult to notice changes if you have darker skin. This is because symptoms of skin cancer may be less obvious than in people with paler skin. If you notice any changes, such as a sore that does not heal, always see your GP.
Below is a sample of the sources used in our skin cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) NICE pathways: Skin Cancer Treatment overview. (updated 2020)
Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Sunlight exposure: risks and benefits. NICE guideline [NG34] Published:2016.
British Journal of Dermatology. British Association of Dermatologists guidelines for the management of people with cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma. 2020.
National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) Cemiplimab for treating metastatic or locally advanced cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma [TA592] Published: 07 August 2019.
BMJ Best Practice. Overview of Skin Cancer. (updated 2019)
British Association of Dermatologists. Service Guidance and Standards for Mohs Micrographic Surgery (MMS). 2020.
This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Dr Samra Turajlic, Consultant Medical Oncologist.
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