Does skin cancer itch?

Many things can cause an itch: dry skin, poison ivy and bug bites, to name a few. Typically skin cancer isn’t the first cause that comes to mind when you itch, but if the irritation persists, it might be something you want a dermatologist to look at.

“Itching is not the usual symptom of skin cancer, and an itch, in general, is more commonly caused by something else,” says Ilene Rothman, MD, formerly of Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. “Surprisingly, sometimes skin cancer can, in fact, itch, and occasionally that’s the complaint from patients.”

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Not many studies have been done on itching as a symptom for skin cancers, but a 2014 study found that itching was a prevalent symptom in 36.9% of all non-melanoma skin cancers. The prevalence of itch was highest for patients with squamous cell carcinoma, at 46.6%.

“Pain or soreness is probably more common, but the skin has a lot of fine nerve endings, and some irritations to those nerve endings can produce itching or pain,” says Dr. Rothman. “Some less-common types of skin cancer present with chronic itching, and other cancers, such as lymphoma and leukemia, can sometimes present with itching all over.”

Because of the wide range of causes for itching, you shouldn’t be concerned about skin cancer at first scratch. Along with an itch or soreness, you should still keep an eye out for the more common signs and symptoms, which include:

  • A change on the skin:
    • A new lump or growth
    • Change in an old lump or growth
    • A sore that doesn’t heal
  • A red or brown patch that’s rough and scaly
  • A pink pearly bump that bleeds easily

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If you have any new, odd-looking moles, lumps or blemishes, you should schedule a skin screening with a dermatologist regardless of itching or soreness.