What are the symptoms of skin cancer?

Both basal cell carcinomas (BCCs) and squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs) can appear in a variety of forms. They usually grow slowly and are painless. They can show up anywhere on your body.

Symptoms of basal cell carcinoma (BCC)

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
  • 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)

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 symptoms 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.

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