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What are some early signs of skin cancer?

There are multiple types of skin cancer, each of which presents with different symptoms or warning signs. Understanding these warning signs can be critical in keeping yourself safe from the deadly effects of skin cancer. Skin cancer can be caused by prolonged exposure to UVA and UVB radiation from sunlight. This does not mean you get skin cancer each time you get a sunburn, but sunburns increase the risks of genetic damage. Similarly, just because you do not notice a sunburn does not mean your skin was not damaged by sunlight. Some people are more naturally vulnerable to sun damage and skin cancer than other people. This means even if you use sunscreen properly and regularly, you should still keep track of your body and look for telltale signs of skin cancer. The three most common types of skin cancer are Melanoma, Basal Cell Carcinoma, and Squamous Cell Carcinomas.

New spots

Across the various kinds of skin cancer, the most common signs of presence are new spots on the skin. These can come in a few forms based on the variety of skin cancer. Freckles, skin colored bumps, or ceaseless itchy-scaly patches on the skin can all be indications of skin cancer. In general, some details to keep your eyes open for are new irregular dark spots on the skin, red bumps, non-healing sores that develop dry crusty textures, bumps that reflect light in a strange shiny way, or bumps that are suspiciously itchy or painful.

Old spots

Just as new spots can appear on the skin with a variety of telltale signs of skin cancer, old spots on the skin like freckles, birthmarks, or scars can suffer sun damage resulting in cancerous skin growth. The signs of cancer on old spots can be the same as those for new spots listed just above. Just because you don’t notice any new spots on your body doesn’t mean you’re in the clear for skin cancer; keep an eye on old spots too.

Signs of Melanoma

Melanoma is often considered the most threatening of the various skin cancers because it is common for melanoma to metastasize (spread) throughout the body. For this reason, it could be said that knowing how to identify melanoma is especially important. In lighter skin tones, melanoma can commonly be found on any part of the skin, particularly on areas with more exposure to direct sunlight.

Darker skin tones on the other hand are more likely to develop melanoma on their palms or bottoms of their feet. This is because darker skin tones have more UV protective melanin than lighter skin tones on most of their bodies aside from those two areas; again, the palms and bottoms of the feet.

The appearance of melanoma is slightly more obvious than other skin cancers in many cases, usually appearing as a dark spot with jagged or otherwise irregular edges. If you notice a new, somehow uneven dark spot anywhere on your skin, consider a consultation with your dermatologist. The sooner you notice and properly handle irregular dark spots related to melanoma, the more likely you are to beat it.

Basal cell carcinoma

The most common type of skin cancer is Basal Cell Carcinoma, which appears different on the skin from Melanoma. Basal Cell Carcinomas usually appear as small white, red, or flesh colored bumps that slowly grow and may occasionally bleed. This kind of cancer spreads more slowly than melanoma, which is lucky because it can take longer to notice the more subtle signs of this condition than the often obvious dark spots associated with melanoma. Basal Cell Carcinoma is often considered the easiest kind of skin cancer to cure. This kind of cancer can appear anywhere on the skin in both dark and light skin tones.For this kind of cancer, hints of presence can be pink, scaly spots on the skin that do not heal. Small bleeding lesions might regularly appear on these patches. Often, this kind of cancer does not protrude far from the surface of the skin, making it hard to notice. Sometimes the only hint is constantly itchy or irritated skin. If you think you notice a Basal Cell Carcinoma growth on your skin, keep a very close eye on it, and if it is cancerous you should notice growth within just a few days. It is critical that you treat this and all cancers as soon as they are noticed.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous Cell Carcinoma has a few unique features that make it a little easier to identify on the skin than Basal Cell Carcinoma. It is the second most common type of skin cancer. Squamous Cell Carcinomas often appear as firm red bumps with open sores on the skin. The skin outside of these sores often turns dark colors and takes on the appearance of dry, significantly damaged skin. Squamous cell carcinomas often express pus or blood. Unlike Basal Cell Carcinomas which are often benign and slow growing, Squamous Cell Carcinomas are likely to metastasize leading to further cancer related complications. This kind of cancer is less likely to metastasize than melanoma, but it still poses a significant risk to your health. It is absolutely essential that if you notice thick, dark, bloody, scaly patches on your skin to consult a dermatologist as soon as possible.

Pay attention to your skin

There are multiple kinds of skin cancer, each of which present differently and grow at different rates. To keep your skin safe this summer and all year round, make sure to check your body for different telltale indications of cancer. Do not ignore new irregular dark spots on your skin, they don’t often just appear for no reason and should be checked out by a dermatologist. If you notice dry, itchy patches on your skin that just won’t heal, that’s cause for concern. If you notice thick, purulent growths on the skin, that too demands attention. Concerns of skin cancer exist in light and dark skin tones alike, meaning everybody ought to protect their skin from sun damage and remain vigilant over their skin health.


Editors. Baumann L.S., & Rieder E.A., & Sun M.D.(Eds.), (2022). Baumann’s Cosmetic Dermatology, 3e. McGraw Hill.

Feller, L., Khammissa, R. A. G., Kramer, B., Altini, M., & Lemmer, J. (2016). Basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma of the head and face. Head & Face Medicine, 12(1), 1-7.