Signs and symptoms of skin cancer

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

Symptoms of basal cell carcinoma

BCCs are more likely to develop on skin that is regularly exposed to the sun, especially on the face, head and neck.

BCCs may:

  • be smooth and pearly
  • look waxy
  • appear as a firm, red lump or may look sunken in the middle
  • appear as a pearly brown or black lump if you have darker skin
  • feel itchy and bleed sometimes
  • develop a crust or scab
  • begin to heal but never completely heal
  • look like a flat, red spot that is scaly and crusty
  • look like a pale non-healing scar
  • develop into a painless ulcer.

An image of a Macmillan Skin Cancer Nurse Specialist talking to a patient through the skin cancer booklet

Signs and symptoms of skin cancer

Ruth Fox, Macmillan Skin Cancer Nurse Specialist, talks about the signs and symptoms of skin cancer and how it is diagnosed.

About our cancer information videos

Signs and symptoms of skin cancer

Ruth Fox, Macmillan Skin Cancer Nurse Specialist, talks about the signs and symptoms of skin cancer and how it is diagnosed.

About our cancer information videos

Symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma

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 four 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.

Back to Understanding skin cancer

What is cancer?

There are more than 200 different kinds of cancer, each with its own name and treatment.

The skin

Your skin is made up of several different types of cell, including squamous cells and basal cells.

Types of skin cancer

The two most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

Why do cancers come back?

Sometimes, tiny cancer cells are left behind after cancer treatment. These can divide to form a new tumour.