Menu
Skin Cancer Explained

The skin cancer symptoms not to be missed

The good news is that most skin cancer is treatable — if caught early. Knowing the symptoms of skin cancer to watch out for can help ensure a timely diagnosis.
MoleMap Team
June 29, 2023
8 minutes

Australia and New Zealand have one of the highest rates of skin cancer globally. Non-melanoma skin cancers are the most common. There are two main types: basal cell carcinoma (BCC)—which accounts for about 70% of non-melanoma skin cancers—and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)

Yet, when people think of skin cancer they tend to think of melanoma. The reason why melanoma is universally known is that it poses the biggest danger. It can quickly spread to other parts of the body, making it much harder to treat. 

In the unlikely event that you do develop skin cancer, your best chance of treating and beating it comes from spotting it early. Here are the skin cancer symptoms to watch out for.

Do you want to read this article later?

Do you want to read this article later?
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

Melanoma symp­toms

In some cases melanoma has no symptoms. Generally though, the first symptom is a new spot or a change to an existing mole. Here’s what to look for:

A new mole (or ugly duckling)

The first symptom of melanoma is generally a new spot or a change to an existing mole. While many people focus on changes to their existing moles, the truth is that most (around 70-80%) of melanomas appear as new moles.

But not just a regular mole. This new mark will look different from other moles, freckles, or sunspots on your skin. It may appear bigger than your other spots. It may have an add shape, or unusual colour. (More on the changes to be aware of below).

The ‘ugly duckling’ rule is a helpful method for spotting melanoma. If any spot or mole looks different to those around it, get it checked out. Presto!

Examples of 'ugly duckling' moles a visible sign of skin cancer.
The ‘ugly duckling’ rule is a helpful method for spotting melanoma. If any spot or mole looks different to those around it, get it checked out. Presto!

A chang­ing mole

Changes to an existing mole (even one you’ve had since forever) can be one of the early symptoms of skin cancer. The best way to track and monitor any differences is to clue up on the signs of skin cancer (AKA the ‘ABCDEFG’ guidelines).

Dark spots under your nails

What are the symptoms of skin cancer? It’s unlikely your first thought is dark streaks, splotch­es, or spots under your fin­gernails or toenails. 

Acral lentiginous melanoma is one of the four main types of melanoma. It appears as a flat grey, black, or brown lesion with an irregular border. It is usually found in areas you might not think to check for symptoms of cancer. This includes the nail bed, palms of the hands and soles of the feet.

Images of acral lentiginous melanoma.
Acral lentiginous melanoma appears as a flat grey, black, or brown lesion with an irregular border. It is usually found in areas you might not think to check like the nail bed, palms of the hands and soles of the feet.

This is the skin cancer that Bob Marley was diagnosed with in 1977. It appeared as a spot under the nail of his big toe. Left untreated, it spread to other parts of his body and caused his death three years later.

Spots that may be mis­tak­en for pimples

Nodular melanomas are firm, raised bumps on the surface of the skin. They may appear as black or blue spots but can change in colour, becoming red or pink. Hence, they may be mistaken for a harmless blind spot or pimple.

Images of nodular melanomas.
Nodular melanomas are firm, raised bumps on the surface of the skin. They may be mistaken for a harmless pimple as they may have a red or pink colour.

Scaly patch­es

Some types of skin cancers can cause patch­es of skin to feel dry, rough, or scaly when touched. These patch­es may be dis­coloured, but not always. 

One way to assess the skin is to slather it with moisturiser. If the skin remains rough and scaly, it could be skin cancer.

Alter­na­tive­ly, it could be a lesion called an actinic ker­ato­sis (AK), which can be a pre­cur­sor to squa­mous cell car­ci­no­ma. AKs appear as scaly spots or patches on areas of the skin that have been over exposed to the sun. It’s most common on the face, scalp, neck, lips, ears, forearms, and backs of the hands. This type of cancer is more com­mon with age.

A sore that won’t heal

Some skin cancers don’t look all that worrisome. But perhaps you notice that they won’t go away. A sore that’s been hanging around and won’t heal, or an unusual spot that’s intensely itchy — these could be symptoms of skin cancer.

A Melanographer examines and documents the patients moles and lesions during a Full Body MoleMap appointment.
Full Body MoleMap is our most comprehensive mole check. It includes total body photography and proactive skin surveillance to spot changes over time.

Vision prob­lems

When we talk about melanoma we tend to think of the skin. Yet, ocular melanoma is a type of cancer that affects the eyes. A rare type of cancer, it’s more common in men and the risk increases with age. 

Ocular melanoma can be tricky to diagnose as it forms in the part of the eye that isn’t visible. So, you won’t see it when looking in the mirror. In fact, often there are no early skin cancer symptoms. The most likely way to identify it is during a routine eye examination.

As the cancer develops, the possibility of symptoms is higher and may include blurry vision, floaters (specks or squiggly lines) in your vision, a dark spot near the iris, or loss of peripheral vision.

Symptoms of skin cancer: non-melanoma

Melanoma tends to get most of the airtime when it comes to skin cancer talk. Yet, basal cell car­ci­no­ma and squa­mous cell car­ci­noma are more common. Plus, like melanoma, they can be fatal if not spotted and treated early. Here are the symptoms of skin cancer to be on the lookout for.

5 signs of basal cell carcinoma

Basal cell car­ci­no­ma (BCC) is char­ac­terised by skin growths. These are, typ­i­cal­ly, red­dish (ulcer like) patch­es or pearl-shaped lumps, which are pink, red, or brown colour. This type of cancer usually appears on the areas of the skin that get the most sun exposure, such as the face and the arms.

Images of basal cell carcinoma.
Basal cell car­ci­no­ma is char­ac­terised by skin growths, typ­i­cal­ly red­dish patch­es or pearl-shaped lumps, which are pink, red, or brown colour.

The good news? Very few people die from BCC, as its symp­toms are hard to ignore and it’s usually treatable. Here are five symptoms of skin cancer to spot.

1. A sore that bleeds and won’t heal

You may notice a spot that bleeds, weeps, or crusts but doesn’t clear up. If it does even­tu­al­ly go away, it’s like­ly it will return.

2. A red, irri­tat­ed patch

A red­dened (eczema-like) area of skin that may feel rough or itchy.

3. A pearly lump

This skin-coloured bump may have a translu­cent (see through) surface.

4. A scaly area that’s shiny and pink

This red/​pink lesion may have an inden­ta­tion in the mid­dle and slight­ly raised edges.

5. A scar-like area

A white or pale pink area of skin that looks like a scar with an unde­fined bor­der. The skin may look tight and shiny.

BCC lesions can vary in size and it’s pos­si­ble to have more than one BCC on dif­fer­ent parts of the body at the same time. They can also grow in groups.

4 signs of squa­mous cell carcinoma

Squa­mous cell car­ci­no­ma (SCC) tends to appear on parts of your skin that get the most sun expo­sure — such as your arms, legs, and face. SCC has sim­i­lar symp­toms to basal cell car­ci­no­ma (BCC). Yet, if left untreat­ed, it can be more dan­ger­ous. This is because it can spread to oth­er organs of the body. Here are four symp­toms of squa­mous cell car­ci­no­ma to watch for.

1. An open sore

What might start out as a rough or scaly patch may devel­op into an open sore.

2. A red, scaly patch

This type of can­cer often appears as a thick, red, scaly, or crust­ed patch.

3. A crater-like growth

You may notice a raised lesion with a depressed centre.

4. Pain or tenderness

The area of the skin where you have the squa­mous cell car­ci­no­ma may feel sore or ten­der to touch.

What's my skin cancer risk?

Answer six simple questions (takes less than 1 minute) to discover your risk and the right skin check for you.
Check my risk

What’s your risk?

Skin can­cer doesn’t dis­crim­i­nate; it can affect any­one, even young people. Yet, sev­er­al fac­tors increase your risk of skin can­cer. This includes:

  • A family/​person his­to­ry of skin cancer
  • Pale or freck­led skin
  • Skin that burns easily
  • A his­to­ry of sun­burn or solar­i­um use
  • An out­doors job/​lifestyle
  • A high num­ber of moles or irreg­u­lar lesions

While skin can­cer can strike at any age, the risk increas­es as you age. Most skin can­cers typ­i­cal­ly appear after the age of fifty.

Check out your per­son­al skin can­cer risk fac­tor here.

Do I need a skin check?

Dai­ly sun pro­tec­tion and reg­u­lar skin checks are the best ways to pro­tect your­self from skin can­cer. We rec­om­mend you have a pro­fes­sion­al skin check once a year.

Young lady applying sunscreen at the beach.
Daily sun protection and regular skin checks are the best ways to protect yourself from skin cancer. We encourage you to do a self-check every three months and have a professional skin examination once a year. If you notice a new or changing mole, check it out. ASAP.

Full Body MoleMap is our most comprehensive mole check. It includes total body photography and proactive skin surveillance to spot changes over time. For people at low risk (with few moles) or who have noticed a new or changing mole, we recommend a skin check. A melanographer will perform a thorough skin exam. Any suspicious moles will be imaged and sent for dermatologist diagnosis. Want the added benefit of full body photography to track changes to your skin and moles over time? Choose our SkinCheck+ service.

To spot new or changing moles in between appointments, we encourage you to do a self-check every three months. If you notice a new or changing mole, check it out. ASAP.  

Remember, regular skin assessments may be the difference between spotting or missing a cancerous mole. 

Information sources:

https://www.cancer.org.au/cancer-information/types-of-cancer/non-melanoma-skin-cancer

https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/basal-cell-carcinoma/bcc-warning-signs-images/

https://www.skincancer.org/skin-cancer-information/squamous-cell-carcinoma/scc-warning-signs-and-images/

MoleMap Team

At MoleMap we check, detect and treat skin cancer. Find out how you can protect your skin at your nearest MoleMap skin cancer clinic.

Latest News

Arrow IconArrow Icon

Squamous cell carcinoma: the risks, symptoms, and what you can do to protect yourself.

Read now

Basal cell carcinoma: what you need to know

Read now

The Early Stages Of Skin Cancer

Read now

The signs of skin cancer you need to know

Read now

Is It Skin Cancer Or Just An Ingrown Hair?

Read now

10 skin cancer facts everyone needs to know

Read now

Want the security of ongoing mole monitoring?

Subscribe to our monthly newsletter

Get preventative tips & hints on how to spot suspect moles. Plus, sun smart giveaways.
Thanks for subscribing!
Keep an eye on your inbox. We'll be there soon with all the skinformation to help you stay safe.
Close
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.