How to recognize the start of skin cancer

Updated April 17, 2017

Skin cancer is by far the most common type of all cancers. It occurs when skin cells divide abnormally and out of control. There are three major types of skin cancers: the basal cell and the squamous cell carcinoma--which are the common forms of skin cancer, and the melanoma--the malignant and highly aggressive type of skin cancer. In most cases, cancer of the skin is caused by excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun. Overexposure to tanning booths or high levels of X-rays can also be among its causes. Below are signs to help identify skin cancer.

Keep an eye on any small rounded mass of elevated tissues on your skin. This type of skin cancer usually starts as a small rounded bump that appears to be smooth and shiny; and is mostly seen around the face, ears, neck, or shoulders.

Observe some blood vessels in the bumps of your skin. The bumps that grow on your skin may appear translucent and small blood vessels known as telangiectases can be seen right through its inner surface.

Check to see if you have any brown lesions. Flat flesh-coloured patches that are commonly formed on the chest or back can be seen on patients with basal cell carcinoma. Such patches may have depressions on the centre, composed of dry crusted skin, where ulceration or bleeding may develop. These lesions gradually grows within months or years and are usually mistaken as non-healing sores.

Look for some unusual red knots on your skin. Rough and red bumps that can be seen around the scalp, face, ears, neck, arms, and the dorsal (back) surface of the hands are the earliest signs of squamous cell carcinoma. This type of bump, also known as actinic (solar) keratosis, can become sore and tender to touch--and if left untreated may invade the deeper parts of the skin that can develop into a full-blown squamous cell carcinoma.

Examine your lips for any abnormal discolouration. Redness and scaling of the lower lip, known as actinic cheilitis, is also one of the early signs of squamous cell carcinoma. Such discolouration makes the border between the lower lip and the surrounding skin indistinctive.

Inspect your sun-exposed areas for some scaly lesions. Other early signs of squamous cell carcinoma are flat crusted patches of the skin that are usually seen around the limbs or trunk. These type of patches are also called Bowen's disease or squamous cell carcinoma in situ. In situ is a Latin term that refers to a cancer that only involves the epidermis or the superficial layer of the skin.

Observe the asymmetry of your mole or any unusual growth on your skin. Normal moles are symmetrical on both sides. But for early signs of melanoma, moles or skin growth appears asymmetrical--where in half of its surface is uneven with the other side.

Try to see if there's any irregularity of the border around your mole or skin projections. This is another early sign of melanoma in which the margins of the mole or skin growth may appear serrated or ragged.

Take a close look if there are any changes in the colour of your moles or skin growth. Another early sign of melanoma is the presence of discolourations. Unusual mixture of pigmentations may develop--from shades of black or brown to traces of red white or blue colours. All of these dashes of colours can spread all throughout its edges, making the mole or skin growth appear abnormally mottled.

Notice if there's any change in the diameter of your mole or skin protuberance. An early sign of melanoma may involve abnormal growth of moles or skin projections larger than 6mm.

Inspect if your mole is becoming more elevated than normal. A developing melanoma may exhibit a noticeable thickening and raising of the surface of a normally flat mole.

Examine the surface of your mole. Moles or any skin projections that are developing symptoms of melanoma may show flaking or crusting. Its surface also appears eroded, which is often accompanied with oozing or bleeding.

Check for some abnormal pigmentation or patches around your moles. Small red patches of skin that are sealed off by a larger lesion (satellite pigmentations) may develop during melanoma. Melanoma lesions do not only affect the moles of the body, they may also develop in an unmarked skin. These lesions most often appear on the head, trunk and neck for men; and in the upper and lower extremities for women.

Monitor some changes in the consistency of your mole and if there's any unusual sensations around it. Moles are normally small and compact protuberances. But when melanoma sets in, an affected mole may appear abnormally soft or its surface is so friable that it easily crumbles or breaks off. Sensations such as burning, itching, or tingling are also among the abnormal changes that take place with melanoma formation.


Avoid too much sun exposure in order to prevent skin cancer. If you can't help but to be under the sun for awhile, at least protect yourself by using sunscreen with sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. When putting on sunscreen, make sure to frequently reapply it to ensure optimum protection.

Try doing some self-examination of your skin, especially when you have numbers of moles or birthmarks on your body. Check if there's any changes in size, colour, texture, or any signs of ulcerations. And if you do notice some unusual changes, especially when it involves pain and swelling of the area, contact your doctor right away.

Most basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas can easily be managed but may also cause severe deformation of the affected area if left untreated. So do contact your doctor for some treatment if you notice some abnormalities on your moles or skin.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Wirnani Garner holds a Bachelor of Science degree in physical therapy and works in the medical profession. Her articles focus on health-related subjects, though Garner is proficient in researching and writing about a diverse range of topics.