Skin Cancer – Know The Signs

Caught and treated early, skin cancer has a good survival rate, current stats show that 90 percent of the disease is detected at stage one and experts estimate 86 percent of cases are preventable.

Any change in your skin or moles should be investigated as soon as possible, your doctor would rather you see them and it turns out to be just an age blemish or new mole than you ignore it and the potential of cancer grow to a level where treatment is too late.

Here, we share the symptoms you need to know – to spot the signs of the three most common skin cancers.


When it comes to moles, they can vary in size and shape, with an even color of brown, tan or black, they can be either raised or flat. Most are present from birth; some appear as you grow from childhood to an adult.

The most important warning sign of melanoma is a new spot on the skin or when a mole changes in appearance.

Superficial spreading melanoma

A malignant superficial spreading melanoma on the thigh Credit: Getty

Around 70 percent of all melanoma cases are what is known as superficial spreading melanomas.

They are more common in people with pale skin and freckles, and much less common in darker-skinned people.

They do tend to grow outwards rather than downwards and don’t pose a problem. However, if they grow downwards into the deeper layers of skin, this is when cancer can spread to other parts of the body.

Therefore, you should see your doctor if you have a mole that’s getting bigger, particularly if it has an irregular edge.

Nodular melanoma

A nodular melanoma which is one of the fastest-growing types Credit: Getty

Nodular melanomas are a faster-developing type of melanoma they grow downwards into the deeper layers of skin if not removed.

They often appear as a changing lump on the skin which might be black to red in color. Nodular melanomas grow on previously normal skin and most commonly occur on the head and neck, chest, or back. A common symptom is bleeding or oozing.

Lentigo maligna melanoma

A Lentigo malignant melanoma mole on the neck Credit: Getty

These commonly affect older people, particularly those who’ve spent a lot of time outdoors. They develop slowly over several years and appear in areas that are often exposed to the sun, such as the face.

To start with, lentigo maligna melanomas are flat and develop sideways in the surface layers of skin. They initially look like a freckle but they’re usually larger, darker, and stand out more than a normal freckle.

They can gradually get bigger and may change shape and at a later stage, they may grow downwards into the deeper layers of skin and can form lumps.

Basal cell carcinoma

Around 75 percent of all skin cancers are basal cell carcinomas, pictured Credit: DermNet

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is sometimes referred to as a rodent ulcer. The disease affects the outermost layers of cells in the skin.

Around 75 percent of all skin cancers are BCCs, which are typically slow-growing and seldom spread to other parts of the body. If treated at an early stage, this form of skin cancer is usually completely cured.

They can become more aggressive, BCCs may spread into the deeper layers of the skin and into the bones – which can make treating it more difficult.

Signs of BCCs, include a skin growth that:

  • Looks smooth and pearly
  • Seems waxy
  • Looks like a firm, red lump
  • Sometimes bleeds
  • Develops a scab or crust
  • Never completely heals
  • Is itchy
  • Looks like a flat red spot and is scaly and crusty
  • Develops into a painless ulcer

Squamous cell carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma is another type of skin cancer Credit:

Another form of non-melanoma, skin cancer, is squamous cell carcinoma.

This is a cancer of the keratinocyte cells which are in the outer layer of the skin.

These cells are mainly found on the face, neck, bald scalps, arms, backs of hands, and lower legs.

It is the second most common type of skin cancer and may:

  • Appear scaly
  • Have a hard, crusty cap
  • Raised skin
  • Tender to touch
  • Bleed sometimes

When found early, skin cancer can often be treated successfully.

How skin cancer is treated depends on a few factors.

Types of treatment can depend on the type of skin cancer, how far it’s spread, where the cancer is, and what stage it’s at.

The main treatment for skin cancer is surgery to remove it from the affected area.

Usually, the surgery carried out is minor and carried out under local anesthetic.

An expert’s view

Matthew Gass, of the British Association of Dermatologists, said: “You should regularly check your skin for signs of skin cancer, particularly changes to the skin, or get a partner to help.

“It can sometimes be tricky to be sure about changes on your skin so you can always take pictures on your phone to compare against.

“Skin cancer isn’t something that just arises from moles, so keep an eye on any changes to your skin and speak to your doctor if you are unsure.”

He added that the ABCDE rules describe a few changes that might indicate a melanoma:

– asymmetry – the two halves of the area may differ in shape or color
B – border – the edges of the area may be irregular or blurred, and sometimes show notches
C – color – this may be uneven. Several different shades of black, brown and pink may be seen
– diameter – most melanomas are at least 6mm in diameter. Report any change in size, shape or diameter to your doctor
E – evolution – if you see progressive changes in size, shape or color over weeks or a few months, you must seek expert help

Mr. Gass added: “For non-melanoma skin cancers, which are very common, there can be quite a bit of variety in how they look.

“Non-melanoma skin cancers can occur on any part of the body but are most common on areas of skin that are most often exposed to the sun such as your head and neck (including lips and ears) and the backs of your hands.