Skin Cancer Symptoms

The early signs of skin cancer will vary according to the type of cancer that is developing. The most important signs to watch for include:

  • a change in the skin (a new lump or growth or a change in an old one)
  • a sore that doesn’t heal
  • a mole that is unusual, changing or growing
  • a red or brown patch that’s rough and scaly 

What's an ugly duckling?

An ugly duckling refers to a spot, mole, or bump on your skin that’s different from all the others. Many people have hundreds if not thousands of spots on their skin, but if one of these stands out because it’s different from all the others — the so-called ugly duckling — it’s important to have a doctor check it out.

What does skin cancer look like?

Basal cell and squamous cell cancer may appear as the following:

Signs of Skin Cancer - a bump that's pale and waxy
A bump that's smooth, pale, shiny, or waxy
Signs of Skin Cancer - a bump that's firm and red
A bump that's firm and red
Signs of Skin Cancer - Red and bleeding
A bump or sore that bleeds, or develops a scab or crust, but does not heal
Signs of Skin Cancer - Rough
A red or brown patch that’s rough and scaly
Signs of Skin Cancer - Red and flat
A flat, red spot that is rough, dry and scaly and may be itchy or tender

Cancerous moles

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer often associated with a mole, but it may also begin on previously clear skin. Most moles are harmless, but it’s important to know the characteristics that indicate a mole may be cancerous. Have a physician check any mole or spot that has one or more of the ABCDE characteristics.

Learn more about melanoma

The ABCDEs of melanoma

Signs of Skin Cancer - Asymmetrical shape
Asymmetry. One half does not match the other half.
Signs of Skin Cancer - Borders are irregular
Border is irregular. The edges are ragged, notched or blurred.
Signs of Skin Cancer - Color
Color is uneven and may appear shades of black, brown, tan, red, gray, pink or blue.
Signs of Skin Cancer - Diameter
Diameter is larger than ¼ inch or 6 mm, about the size of a pencil eraser. Increasing size is a special concern.
Signs of Skin Cancer - Evolving Shape
Evolving. The spot is changing in size, shape or color.
I tell people to also include F for funny or funky. This points to the “ugly duckling” type of spot or mole, the one that’s different from all the others on your skin.
Gyorgy Paragh, MD, PhD
Assistant Professor of Oncology
Department of Dermatology

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