We explain some of the signs to look for here, and include some early stage skin cancer photos.
Please note, this is a general guide only – and you should always seek professional advice. But there is one simple rule to remember. It’s definitely time to see your skin specialist if you notice a spot on your skin that:
• looks different from your other spots (see “the ugly duckling” rule)
• changes in appearance (see the ABCDE rule)
• itches or bleeds
And of course, prevention and regular screening is your skin’s best chance against developing skin cancer.
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Here are some other common skin conditions you may notice, either in your own skin or that of others. Often these tend to occur as we age.
Some of these conditions are completely harmless – while others can develop into cancer.
You may notice flat brown spots on the face and hands that appear in middle-age. These are commonly known as ‘age spots’ or ‘liver spots’, but the medical name for them is solar lentigines. They occur in people who have previously spent a lot of time exposed in the sun.
• Flat patch of coloured skin
• Very common, especially age 40+
• Can vary in size
• Often on the face and back of the hands
• Do not usually develop into cancer
Harmless warty spots (medical name seborrhoeic keratoses) are also very common in ageing skin. They usually start appearing from age 30 – 40 onwards, and it’s estimated 90% of adults over 60 have one or more.
• Wart-like lesions, often dry surface with cracks
• Can appear anywhere on the body
• May be itchy
• More common after age 40
• Do not lead to cancer
Solar keratosis (also known as actinic keratosis) is a rough, scaly spot found on sun-damaged skin. It’s classed as a ‘precancerous’ skin disorder because without treatment, it could potentially turn into cancer. Sometimes squamous cell carcinoma can arise in an area of severe sun damaged skin where there are many solar keratosis.2
If you think you have solar keratosis, it’s important to seek treatment straight away.
• Always on sun-exposed areas
• Superficial, rough, scaly areas
• Not tender or sore
• Reddened lesions, occasionally pigmented
• Could become cancerous
What is early stage skin cancer?
Your skin’s top layer – the epidermis – is made up of skin cells that your body continually makes and sheds.
Simply put, skin cancer is when these cells turn abnormal and start growing out-of-control. They multiply rapidly and form malignant tumours.
Skin cancer in early stages generally starts with a change to a freckle or mole. It may be a new spot, or one that changes size, shape or colour. It might be a sore that won’t heal, or a patch of skin that bleeds. It may also appear as a lump or nodule, an ulcer, or a changing lesion.
When we talk about skin cancer, we talk about two types – melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer. The two main types of non-melanoma cancer are basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma.
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Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) accounts for about 70% of non-melanoma skin cancers.
It often appears as a change in the skin, such as a growth or a sore that doesn’t heal. Basal cell carcinoma can occur in people of any sex or age.3
Symptoms of BCC may include:
• Waxy small raised lesions (papules) with a depressed centre
• Ulcer-like appearance or pearl-like and translucent
• A tendency to bleed
• Red and scaly, oozing or crusted areas
• Raised borders
• Black-blue or brown areas
What does squamous cell carcinoma look like?
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) is less common, accounting for about 30% of non-melanoma skin cancers.
Signs of squamous cell carcinoma may include:
• A firm, red nodule, that is often sore when you squeeze it laterally
• A flat sore with a scaly crust
• A new sore or raised area on an old scar or ulcer
• A rough, scaly patch on your lip that may evolve to an open sore
• A red sore or rough patch inside your mouth
• A red, raised patch or wart-like sore on or in the anus or on the genitals
What does melanoma look like?
We cover here the two most common types of melanoma. (To learn more, see our article on the four types of melanoma).
Superficial Spreading Melanoma (SSM)
This is the most common type of melanoma, accounting for two-thirds of cases in Australia and New Zealand.
• Generally found on the arms, legs, chest and back
• May be a new spot, or grow in an existing one
• May be raised or flat
• Can look like a freckle that’s growing sideways
• Can be a range of colours (including white)
This is the second most common type and accounts for about 15% of melanoma in Australia and New Zealand. It can grow more quickly than other melanomas, which makes early diagnosis even more critical.
Signs to watch for include:
• A dome-shaped, firm lump
• Larger size than most moles (often 6mm-10mm or more in diameter)
• More often found on the chest, back, head or neck
• When growing, can become red rather than brown or black
• Bleeding or oozing is a common symptom
• Can feel itchy or stinging
The “ugly duckling” test and the ABCDE rule
Seeing early stage skin cancer photos of different moles and spots can help ‘train your eye’ for doing your own self-checks. It helps you know what to look for.
For instance, you might hear skin experts talking about the “ugly duckling rule”. Most moles and freckles on your body tend to be the same or similar-looking, this makes it fairly easy to spot one that’s not like the others. It might be one large dark mole among a bunch of smaller lighter moles, for instance. Or a single light-coloured mole in a sea of large dark ones.
It’s good to be aware of the signs of early stage skin cancer, and we thoroughly recommend checking your own skin (and the skin of your loved ones). But no matter how vigilant you are, the signs of skin cancer are very difficult to see with an untrained eye — especially in the early stages.
That’s why using a regular screening service is such a wise decision. At MoleMap, we provide options and free spot check for all needs and budgets. If there are 1 – 2 moles you want checked out, our Skin Check is a great option. To monitor any changes in your skin over time, our Skin Check+ and Full Body MoleMap capture a full photographic record of your skin.
At MoleMap we check, detect and treat skin cancer. Find out how you can protect your skin at your nearest MoleMap skin cancer clinic.