What Does Skin Cancer Look Like
Skin cancer can happen to anyone, at any age, on any part of the body. And because skin cancers appear in many shapes and sizes, they can be challenging to identify. Getting to know your own skin and understanding what to look for can help you detect cancer early when its easiest to cure.
Thats why you should examine your skin once a month. If you see something NEW, CHANGING OR UNUSUAL even if it looks nothing like what you see in photos do not wait! Get it checked by a dermatologist right away. Finding and treating skin cancer early can save your life.
Skin Cancer Image Gallery
Below is a selection of photos that give you a general idea about what skin cancers can look like. Remember that skin cancers can look quite different from one person to another due to skin tone, size and type of skin cancer and location on the body. Skin cancer can be tricky in other ways, too. For example, melanoma is a type of skin cancer that is often pigmented tan, brown, black, even blue. But amelanotic melanoma lacks pigment and appears as a skin-tone or pink lesion.
To sum it up, while photos can be helpful, getting your skin examined by a dermatologist is the most vital step in identifying and treating skin cancer.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma In Situ
This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.
Squamous cell carcinoma in situ, also known as Bowens disease, is a precancerous condition that appears as a red or brownish patch or plaque on the skin that grows slowly over time. The patches are often found on the legs and lower parts of the body, as well as the head and neck. In rare cases, it has been found on the hands and feet, in the genital area, and in the area around the anus.
Bowens disease is uncommon: only 15 out of every 100,000 people will develop this condition every year. The condition typically affects the Caucasian population, but women are more likely to develop Bowens disease than men. The majority of cases are in adults over 60. As with other skin cancers, Bowens disease can develop after long-term exposure to the sun. It can also develop following radiotherapy treatment. Other causes include immune suppression, skin injury, inflammatory skin conditions, and a human papillomavirus infection.
Bowens disease is generally treatable and doesnt develop into squamous cell carcinoma. Up to 16% of cases develop into cancer.
What Does Melanoma Look Like
Melanoma is a type of cancer that begins in melanocytes . Below are photos of melanoma that formed on the skin. Melanoma can also start in the eye, the intestines, or other areas of the body with pigmented tissues.
Often the first sign of melanoma is a change in the shape, color, size, or feel of an existing mole. However, melanoma may also appear as a new mole. People should tell their doctor if they notice any changes on the skin. The only way to diagnose melanoma is to remove tissue and check it for cancer cells.
Thinking of “ABCDE” can help you remember what to look for:
- Asymmetry: The shape of one half does not match the other half.
- Border that is irregular: The edges are often ragged, notched, or blurred in outline. The pigment may spread into the surrounding skin.
- Color that is uneven: Shades of black, brown, and tan may be present. Areas of white, gray, red, pink, or blue may also be seen.
- Diameter: There is a change in size, usually an increase. Melanomas can be tiny, but most are larger than the size of a pea .
- Evolving: The mole has changed over the past few weeks or months.
Melanomas can vary greatly in how they look. Many show all of the ABCDE features. However, some may show changes or abnormal areas in only one or two of the ABCDE features.
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Can Melanoma Be Prevented
Melanoma is not always preventable, but you can reduce your chances of developing it by limiting your exposure to UV light.
You can help protect yourself from sun damage by using sunscreen and dressing sensibly in the sun. Sunbeds and sunlamps should also be avoided.
Regularly checking your moles and freckles can help lead to early diagnosis and increase your chances of successful treatment.
Why Does It Happen
Non-melanoma skin cancer is mainly caused by overexposure to ultraviolet light. UV light comes from the sun, as well as artificial sunbeds and sunlamps.
In addition to UV light overexposure, there are certain things that can increase your chances of developing non-melanoma skin cancer, such as:
- a family history of the condition
- pale skin that burns easily
- a large number of moles or freckles
Read more about the causes of non-melanoma skin cancer
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What Causes Cancer To Form On Your Scalp
The main cause of all types of skin cancer is sun exposure. Your scalp is one of your body parts exposed most to the sun, especially if you are bald or have thin hair. That means its one of the more common spots for skin cancer.
Other potential causes of skin cancer on your scalp include using a tanning bed and having had radiation treatment on your head or neck area.
The best way to prevent skin cancer on your scalp is to protect your scalp when you go into the sun:
- Wear a hat or other head covering whenever possible.
- Spray sunscreen on your scalp.
Other ways to help prevent skin cancer on your scalp are:
- Avoid using tanning beds.
- Limit your time in the sun.
- Check your scalp regularly to spot any potential cancerous spots early. This can help stop precancerous lesions from turning into cancer or stop skin cancer from spreading. You can use a mirror to look at the back and top of your scalp more thoroughly.
Who Gets Skin Cancer And Why
Sun exposure is the biggest cause of skin cancer. But it doesn’t explain skin cancers that develop on skin not ordinarily exposed to sunlight. Exposure to environmental hazards, radiation treatment, and even heredity may play a role. Although anyone can get skin cancer, the risk is greatest for people who have:
- Fair skin or light-colored eyes
- An abundance of large and irregularly-shaped moles
- A family history of skin cancer
- A history of excessive sun exposure or blistering sunburns
- Lived at high altitudes or with year-round sunshine
- Received radiation treatments
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What Are The Treatment Options For A Cancerous Mole
There are two main types of skin cancer.
Non-melanoma skin cancers are diagnosed 147,000 times a year in the UK, while melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, is diagnosed 16,000 times a year.
The most common treatment for melanoma is surgery , although it will depend on your circumstances.
Surgery is usually successful when treating melanoma, if it is found and diagnosed at an early stage.
If melanoma is not found until a more advanced stage, treatment is used to reduce symptoms and slow the spread of the cancer.
Even if your treatment was successful, once you have had melanoma there is still a chance that it may return.
If your cancer team thinks there is a risk of melanoma returning, you will be invited to regular check-ups to monitor your health.
Stay in the know and keep up to date with all the latest skin cancer news.
How To Spot A Bcc: Five Warning Signs
Check for BCCs where your skin is most exposed to the sun, especially the face, ears, neck, scalp, chest, shoulders and back, but remember that they can occur anywhere on the body. Frequently, two or more of these warning signs are visible in a BCC tumor.
Please note: Since not all BCCs have the same appearance, these images serve as a general reference to what basal cell carcinoma looks like.
An open sore that does not heal
A reddish patch or irritated area
A small pink growth with a slightly raised, rolled edge and a crusted indentation in the center
A shiny bump or nodule
A scar-like area that is flat white, yellow or waxy in color
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Looking For Signs Of Skin Cancer
Non melanoma skin cancers tend to develop most often on skin that’s exposed to the sun.
To spot skin cancers early it helps to know how your skin normally looks. That way, you’ll notice any changes more easily.
To look at areas you cant see easily, you could try using a hand held mirror and reflect your skin onto another mirror. Or you could get your partner or a friend to look. This is very important if you’re regularly outside in the sun for work or leisure.
You can take a photo of anything that doesn’t look quite right. If you can it’s a good idea to put a ruler or tape measure next to the abnormal area when you take the photo. This gives you a more accurate idea about its size and can help you tell if it’s changing. You can then show these pictures to your doctor.
Diagnosis In Secondary Care
A clinical diagnosis of melanoma can usually be made by an expert after examination of the patient but must always be backed up by histopathological analysis following excision by a 2mm margin. However, early melanomas and amelanotic melanomas can be difficult to spot clinically and in these cases diagnosis is usually made histologically.
There are various signs that a pathologist will look for including pagetoid spread to confirm a diagnosis of melanoma.
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Less Common Skin Cancers
Uncommon types of skin cancer include Kaposi’s sarcoma, mainly seen in people with weakened immune systems sebaceous gland carcinoma, an aggressive cancer originating in the oil glands in the skin and Merkel cell carcinoma, which is usually found on sun-exposed areas on the head, neck, arms, and legs but often spreads to other parts of the body.
What Does Basal Cell Carcinoma Look Like
Basal cell carcinomas can vary in their appearance.
- They are often first noticed as a scab that bleeds and does not heal completely or a new lump on the skin. Basal cell carcinomas can develop as a nodule that progressively and slowly enlarges.
- Some Basal cell carcinomas are superficial and look like a scaly red flat mark on the skin.
- Others form a lump and have a pearl-like rim surrounding a central crater and there may be small red blood vessels present across the surface.
- Any new lesions need to be shown to a doctor.
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How To Spot Skin Cancer
Skin cancer is by far the most common type of cancer. If you know what to look for, you can spot warning signs of skin cancer early. Finding it early, when its small and has not spread, makes skin cancer much easier to treat.
Some doctors and other health care professionals include skin exams as part of routine health check-ups. Many doctors also recommend that you check your own skin about once a month. Look at your skin in a well-lit room in front of a full-length mirror. Use a hand-held mirror to look at areas that are hard to see.
Use the ABCDE rule to look for some of the common signs of melanoma, one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer:
AsymmetryOne part of a mole or birthmark doesnt match the other.
BorderThe edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.
ColorThe color is not the same all over and may include shades of brown or black, sometimes with patches of pink, red, white, or blue.
DiameterThe spot is larger than ¼ inch across about the size of a pencil eraser although melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.
EvolvingThe mole is changing in size, shape, or color.
Basal and squamous cell skin cancers are more common than melanomas, but they are usually very treatable.
Both basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas, or cancers, usually grow on parts of the body that get the most sun, such as the face, head, and neck. But they can show up anywhere.
Basal cell carcinomas: what to look for:
Squamous cell carcinomas: what to look for:
What Causes Melanoma
Melanoma is caused by skin cells that begin to develop abnormally.
Exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun is thought to cause most melanomas, but there’s evidence to suggest that some may result from sunbed exposure.
The type of sun exposure that causes melanoma is sudden intense exposure. For example, while on holiday, which leads to sunburn.
Certain things can increase your chance of developing melanoma, such as having:
- lots of moles or freckles
- pale skin that burns easily
- red or blonde hair
Read more about the causes of melanoma.
Is Skin Cancer Itchy
Itchy skin and/or itchy moles can be a sign of skin cancer.
A study from 2018 that looked at 16,000 people found people with general itching were more likely to have cancer than those who didn’t.
Typically, skin cancer is identified by a new or changing spot on the skin.
But in some cases, itchiness might be the reason that the spot was noticed.
Itching can indicate all sorts of things however, so if it’s your only symptom and isn’t going away go to your doctor.
How Do I Check For Skin Cancer
The best way to check for skin cancer is to carry out regular skin self-examinations . We recommend you examine your skin regularly, ideally once a month. Early detection can help to reduce the risk of developing a larger, more serious skin cancer that may need extensive surgery or treatment. You should be looking for:
- New skin lumps, spots, ulcers, scaly patches or moles that werent there before
- Sores that do not heal
- Any areas on the skin that are itchy, painful or bleed
How to examine your skin: Ideally you should examine your skin in a warm, well-lit room with the following equipment:
- A chair
- A tape measure or ruler
- A digital camera to record any skin marks you are not sure about
To make sure that you check all your skin, we suggest you examine yourself from head to toe following these steps. Use a mirror to check difficult-to-see areas or ask a friend or relative to help you.
Beginning with your head, examine your scalp using a comb to part your hair so you can check all over your scalp. Go on to look over your face and neck. Dont forget to check behind your ears and the back of your neck.
Check your shoulders, chest and abdomen, again using a comb to part any hair to examine the skin underneath. Dont forget to examine under your breasts and in the groin area.
Arms and hands
Legs and feet
How Are Moles Evaluated
If you find a mole or spot that has any ABCDE’s of melanoma — or one that’s tender, itching, oozing, scaly, doesn’t heal or has redness or swelling beyond the mole — see a doctor. Your doctor may want to remove a tissue sample from the mole and biopsy it. If found to be cancerous, the entire mole and a rim of normal skin around it will be removed and the wound stitched closed. Additional treatment may be needed.
Mistaken For A Bruise
Many people first mistake subungual melanoma as a bruise.3,4 However, unlike a bruise, the streaks from subungual melanoma do not heal or grow out with the nail over time.4 It can also be confused with normal pigmentation of the nail bed or a fungal infection.2 While you can have a streak or bruising under the nail that isnt melanoma, you should ask a dermatologist to check your nails if you notice any changes.
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Professionals You Are Likely To Meet
A clinical nurse specialist in skin cancer is a trained registered nurse who has undertaken extra specialist education in the care of skin cancer patients. The skin cancer nurse may also be known as your Key Worker.
A Key Worker is someone who is the link between you and all the other people involved in your care and is the main hospital contact person for you during specific parts of your treatment. The person who is your key worker may change depending on your treatment and where you are receiving your care at a particular time.
The Role of the skin cancer nurse
Causes Of Skin Cancer
Sun exposure can change the DNA in the skin which can cause skin cancer. People who work outdoors, enjoy outdoor activities without use of sun protection, are at an increased risk of developing skin cancer.
Sunbed and sunlamp use. The artificial UV light can damage the DNA in the skin. The likelihood of developing skin cancer is further increased the earlier someone started to use sunbeds and the more frequently they were used.
Severe sunburn as a child increases the risk of a future skin cancer. Damage from UV light may not show until later in life.
Skin type. People with a fair complexion that burns more easily in the sun, have an increased risk of developing skin cancer. There is also an increased risk for people with red or blonde hair, blue or green eyes and people with freckles.
People who are immunosuppressed due to medication or a pre-existing medical condition are also at an increased risk of developing skin cancer.
Radiotherapy. A previous site of radiotherapy may have an increased risk of a skin cancer at the site especially BCCs.
A previous skin cancer diagnosis can also increase the risk of developing another skin malignancy.
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