Skin Cancer Signs and Symptoms

Medical Author: Ali R. Lashgari, MD
Medical Editors: Gary W. Cole, MD, FAAD and William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

Skin cancers develop most commonly on sun-exposed skin including the backs of the hands and arms, upper trunk, face, nose, lips, ears, lower legs, and the hairless scalp. They much less commonly involve the nail bed, bottom of the feet, and the genital areas. Skin cancers are most common in people with lighter skin tones. There are three common skin cancers -- basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Actinic keratoses are referred to as “pre-cancers.”

Actinic Keratosis (Pre-Cancers)

Actinic Keratoses”, or solar keratoses, occur in chronically sun-damaged skin. They are the precursors to squamous cell carcinomas (SCC). They tend to appear as reddish, brownish, or flesh-toned irregular, rough, scaly patches. People often have multiple lesions at the same time and a stinging sensation has been associated with them.

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)

BCC is the most common type of skin cancer and has a predilection for sun-exposed skin. Tumors may appear as a pearly or waxy bumps usually with visible blood vessels (nodular BCC), or as a flat scaly reddish patch (superficial BCC) with a brown border, or as a hard or scar-like lesion (sclerosing BCC). Frequently BCCs can be itchy, often bleed, or in more advanced cases, ulcerate.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)