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Symptoms and Signs of Skin Cancer

Doctor's Notes on Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is the most common of all human cancers. There are three major types of skin cancers: basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and melanoma. Most skin cancers are BCCs or SCCs which may be locally disfiguring if not treated early, but they usually do not spread to other parts of the body. A small number of skin cancers are malignant melanomas, which are highly aggressive and tend to spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. Melanomas can be fatal if not diagnosed and treated promptly.

Symptoms of basal cell carcinoma (BCC) skin cancer include a raised, smooth, pearly bump on the sun-exposed skin of the head, neck, or shoulders. Small blood vessels may be visible within the tumor and a central depression with crusting and bleeding is common. It may be mistaken for a sore that does not heal. Symptoms of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) skin cancer include a well-defined, red, scaling, thickened patch on sun-exposed skin that may ulcerate and bleed. If not treated, untreated, squamous cell carcinoma may develop into a large mass. Symptoms of malignant melanoma skin cancer include brown to black pigmented lesions. Warning signs that are indicative of malignant melanoma include changes in size, shape, color, or elevation of a mole; new mole that develops during adulthood; or new pain, itching, ulceration, or bleeding of an existing mole.

Medical Author: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.