What are the symptoms of skin cancer?

This information is about symptoms of the common types of skin cancer, basal cell carcinomas (BCCs) and squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs). They can appear in a variety of forms. They usually grow slowly and are painless. They can show up anywhere on your body. They are types of skin cancer known as non-melanoma skin cancer. We have separate information about melanoma.

Symptoms of basal cell carcinoma (BCC)

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) symptoms 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
  • waxy
  • 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:

  • feel itchy and bleed sometimes
  • develop a crust or scab
  • begin to heal but never completely heal
  • develop into a painless ulcer.

Symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)

Squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) usually develop in areas that have been damaged by sun exposure. In people with pale skin, they are mainly found on the face, neck, bald scalps, arms, backs of hands and lower legs.

In people with darker or black skin, SCCs are more likely to affect areas that have less or no sun exposure. These include the lower legs, torso, genitals or areas where there has been long-term scarring, for example after a burn.

SCCs may:

  • look scaly
  • have a hard, crusty scab
  • look pink or red
  • make the skin raised in the area of the cancer
  • feel tender to touch
  • bleed sometimes.

What to do if you notice skin changes

If you notice anything unusual on your skin that does not go away after 4 weeks, show it to your doctor. It might help to take a photograph of anything unusual so you can check for any changes. Remember that 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 signs of skin cancer can be less obvious than those for people with paler skin. If you notice any changes, or develop a sore that does not heal, speak to your doctor.

About our information

  • References

    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 cancerinformationteam@macmillan.org.uk

    Motley et al. British Association of Dermatologists. Management of the patient with primary cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma. 2009.

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). NG12: Suspected cancer: recognition and referral. 2015 (updated 2017).

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). NG134: Sunlight Exposure: Benefits and Risks. 2016.

    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). PH32: Skin Cancer Prevention. 2011 (updated 2016).

    Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN) 140. Management of primary cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma. 2014.

    Telfar N et al. Guidelines for the management of basal cell carcinoma. British Journal of Haematology. 2008.


  • Reviewers

    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, Professor James Larkin, Consultant Medical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.