What Are the Signs of Skin Cancer?

Reviewed on 2/3/2022

Dermatologist checking  a child's skin
Signs of skin cancer include changes in skin lesions or moles, or new moles with the following characteristics called the ABCDE'S: asymmetry (irregularly shaped), border (jagged, irregular edges), color (several different colors), diameter (size greater than ¼ inch), and evolution (changes in size, shape, or color).

Skin cancer occurs when cells in the skin grow abnormally and out of control.

There are different types of skin cancer

  • Basal cell carcinoma 
    • Accounts for about 80% of cases 
    • Originates in the basal cells found in the lower layer of skin that are responsible for producing new skin as the old skin layers die off
  • Squamous cell carcinoma
    • Another common type of skin cancer 
    • Occurs when cells in the top layer of skin (the epidermis) grow out of control
  • Melanoma 
    • A serious type of skin cancer that develops when melanocytes (the cells that give the skin its pigmentation, or color) grow out of control
    • Less common than basal or squamous cell skin cancers but can be more deadly

Signs of skin cancer include changes in skin lesions or moles, or the development of new moles that can be remembered by the ABCDE’s: 

  • Asymmetry — Irregularly shaped, each half looks different
  • Border — Jagged, uneven, irregular edges
  • Color — Mole is several different colors
  • Diameter — Size greater than ¼ inch (about the side of an eraser on the end of a pencil)
  • Evolution — Changes in size, shape, or color

Other signs and symptoms of skin cancer include:

  • Raised growths or lumps, sometimes with a depressed area in the center
  • A pearly white bump
  • Translucent appearing bumps
  • Rough or scaly red patches, which might crust or bleed
  • Open sores (that may ooze or crust over) that don’t completely heal, or that heal and return
  • Wart-like growths
  • Waxy skin growths with raised border and depression in the center
  • Flat, scaly patches
  • A flat area that is only slightly different from normal skin
  • Redness
  • Bleeding 
  • Swelling
  • Crusting
  • Itching
  • Burning
  • Spider veins” (telangiectasia) visible on the surface 
  • Black-blue or brown areas 

How Is Skin Cancer Diagnosed?

A doctor will examine the skin all over the body. If skin cancer is suspected, tests may be performed such as: 

  • Skin biopsy
    • Shave (tangential) biopsy
    • Punch biopsy
    • Incisional biopsy: removes only a portion of the tumor
    • Excisional biopsy: removes the entire tumor
  • Lymph node biopsy
    • Fine needle aspiration (FNA) biopsy
    • Surgical (excisional) lymph node biopsy
  • Imaging tests 

What Is the Treatment for Skin Cancer?

Treatment for skin cancer usually depends on the type and stage of the cancer and includes:

  • Surgery to remove the cancer
  • Local treatments other than surgery 
    • Cryotherapy
    • Photodynamic therapy (PDT)
    • Topical chemotherapy
    • Immune response modifiers
    • Laser surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Immunotherapy 
  • Targeted therapy


Sun-Damaged Skin: Pictures of Sun Spots, Wrinkles, Sunburns See Slideshow

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Reviewed on 2/3/2022
Image Source: iStock Images