What Are the Signs of Skin Cancer?

What Are the Signs of Skin Cancer?

All types of skin cancer, including the most dangerous — melanoma — can be cured when you get treatment at an early stage. You can catch cancer early by examining your skin each month, looking for signs of suspicious growths.

A good way to begin is with a full skin exam performed by Rafael C. Cabrera, MD, FACS, at Plastic Surgery Specialists of Boca Raton. After closely checking all the growths on your skin, we can give you tips for how to do self-skin exams and identify problems.

The three primary types of skin cancer — basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma — cause visible skin lesions. However, these lesions can take several appearances.

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)

BCC, the most common type of skin cancer, rarely spreads throughout your body, but it can expand into the surrounding skin and grow deep below the surface. As BCC grows, it injures blood vessels, nerves, and bones.

The signs of BCC include:

Open sore

BCC often causes an open sore that may bleed or ooze and crust over. The sore may also heal and then reappear.

Red patch

Red patches may be itchy and painful or can cause no discomfort.

Pink growth

You may notice a slightly raised pink growth that’s indented in the center. The growth may also have tiny blood vessels on its surface.

Shiny bump

BCC may appear as a shiny bump that’s white, pink, or red. In people of color, it may be tan, black, or brown.

Scar-like area

A skin lesion that’s flat, white or yellow, and surrounded by skin that’s tight and shiny is a warning sign of a rare invasive BCC.

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)

Without early treatment, SCC can grow deep under your skin and (like BCC) can destroy bone and other tissues. Metastasis isn’t common, but SCC can spread into your lymph nodes and other organs throughout your body.  


SCC most often begins as dry, scaly patches of skin, a condition called actinic keratosis. These tan or brown patches are benign (noncancerous) at first. Untreated, they gradually turn into cancerous lesions.

Though not as common, SCC may begin as a red bump or sore or as a growth with raised edges and a depressed center that may itch or bleed.


Melanoma is the least common skin cancer type, yet it accounts for the most deaths. It begins in an existing mole or a new growth resembling a mole. There are three ways to identify melanoma:

1. Watch for new moles

New moles rarely grow during your adult years, but about 70%-80% of melanomas begin in a new growth resembling a mole. For this reason, get new moles checked for melanoma. 

2. Find the ugly duckling

The ugly duckling approach is based on the idea that most moles on your body look similar. By comparison, a cancerous mole stands out from the others (like an ugly duckling), making it easy to spot.

Comparing a cluster of moles gives you a simple way to quickly notice changes. But you have a better chance of finding melanoma by checking each individual mole for ABCDE changes.

3. Look for ABCDE changes

ABCDE reminds you of the top five warning signs of melanoma:

Asymmetry: Moles should always be symmetrical, with one half matching the other. Melanomas are asymmetrical. If you see that one side looks different from the other, it’s a red flag for melanoma.

Borders: Your moles should have smooth, even borders. Uneven, wavy, or jagged edges signal melanoma.

Color: Noncancerous moles are one shade of brown. Melanomas have different shades of tan, brown, and black. As the cancer grows, you may also see shades of red or blue.

Diameter: Suspect melanoma if you notice any mole that’s the size of a pencil eraser or larger.

Evolving: The bottom line is that moles should never “evolve.” Any change in a mole’s shape, size, color, or elevation is a sign of melanoma. Other changes, such as itching, crusting, or bleeding are also warning signs.

If you notice any changes in moles or other skin lesions, don’t wait to have it examined. Call Plastic Surgery Specialists of Boca Raton, or request an appointment online right away.

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