What are the 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.

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-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:

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

SCCs may:

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

What to do if you notice skin changes

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.

Macmillan is here to support you. If you would like to talk, you can:

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

    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.


  • 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, Dr Samra Turajlic, 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.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We try to make sure our information is as clear as possible. We use plain English, avoid jargon, explain any medical words, use illustrations to explain text, and make sure important points are highlighted clearly.

We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected. Our aims are for our information to be as clear and relevant as possible for everyone.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.