What Does Stage 1 Skin Cancer Look Like?

Reviewed on 1/5/2022

Symptoms of stage 1 skin cancers can look like changes in skin lesions or moles, or the development of new moles that are characterized by asymmetry, irregular edges, having multiple colors, and size greater than ¼ inch.
Symptoms of stage 1 skin cancers can look like changes in skin lesions or moles, or the development of new moles that are characterized by asymmetry, irregular edges, having multiple colors, and size greater than ¼ inch.

Skin cancer, a common cause of visible abnormalities of the skin, occurs when skin cells experience abnormal and out-of-control growth.

There are different types of skin cancer

  • Basal cell carcinoma 
    • The most common type of skin cancer, accounting for about 80% of cases 
    • Originates in basal cells 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 color (pigmentation) grow out of control
    • Untreated melanoma can spread (metastasize) to internal organs and can be life-threatening
    • It is less common than basal or squamous cell skin cancers but can be more deadly

26 Symptoms of Stage 1 Skin Cancer

Stage 1 skin cancers are those that are localized, meaning, they have not spread beyond the area from which they originated. In stage 1, there is no evidence of spread to the lymph tissues, lymph nodes, or organs in the body.

Symptoms of stage 1 skin cancers can look like 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

Another way to potentially recognize a stage 1 skin cancer is called the “Ugly Duckling Sign,” which is based on the concept that most normal moles on the body resemble one another, while skin cancers such as melanomas look different and stand out like “ugly ducklings” in comparison. 

Other symptoms of skin cancer may include:

  • Rough or scaly red patches, which might crust or bleed
  • Flat, scaly patches
  • Raised growths or lumps, sometimes with a depressed area in the center
  • Translucent appearing bumps
  • Pearly white bumps
  • 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
  • A flat area that is only slightly different from normal skin
  • Redness
  • Crusting
  • Itching
  • Bleeding 
  • Swelling
  • Burning
  • Spider veins” (telangiectasia) visible on the surface 
  • Black-blue or brown areas 

What Causes Skin Cancer?

Skin cancer is most often caused by repeated and unprotected skin exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from sunlight and tanning beds. 

Risk factors for developing skin cancer include:

  • Ultraviolet (UV) exposure from the sun or tanning beds
  • Having fair skin that freckles or burns easily, light hair, and blue or green eyes
  • Family history of skin cancer
  • Personal history of skin cancers 
  • Having certain types of moles 
  • Having a compromised immune system, such as people who have HIV/AIDS, are organ transplant recipients, or are receiving certain medical treatments such as chemotherapy
  • Exposure to certain chemicals
  • Radiation treatment 
  • Long-term or severe skin inflammation or injury
    • Such as scars from severe burns, areas of skin over serious bone infections, and skin damaged by some severe inflammatory skin diseases 
  • Older age: the risk increases as people age
  • Being male 
  • Smoking
  • Psoralen plus ultraviolet A light (PUVA) used to treat psoriasis
  • Drugs that cause photosensitivity (sensitivity of skin to sunlight), such as tetracycline antibiotics or thiazide diuretics
  • Therapeutic ionizing radiation, such as that used to treat facial acne, psoriasis, or tinea capitis
  • Dietary factors, such as high intake (more than twice weekly) of citrus products which contain compounds called furocoumarins that are considered photocarcinogenic agents
  • Basal cell nevus syndrome (also known as nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome or Gorlin syndrome)
  • Chronic arsenic exposure
  • Certain genetic disorders 
  • Certain inherited disorders 

How Is Skin Cancer Diagnosed?

A doctor will examine the skin all over the body. If skin cancer is suspected, tests may include: 

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
    • Electrodesiccation and curettage 
    • Excisional surgery 
    • Mohs micrographically controlled surgery 
    • Cryosurgery 
  • Local treatments other than surgery 
    • Cryotherapy
    • Photodynamic therapy (PDT)
    • Topical chemotherapy
    • Immune response modifiers
    • Laser surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Immunotherapy 
  • Targeted therapy


Self-examination is important in the detection of skin cancer. See Answer

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Reviewed on 1/5/2022
Image Source: iStock Images