Skin Cancer (Nonmelanoma Skin Cancer or Keratinocyte Cancer)

  • Medical Author:
    Gary W. Cole, MD, FAAD

    Dr. Cole is board certified in dermatology. He obtained his BA degree in bacteriology, his MA degree in microbiology, and his MD at the University of California, Los Angeles. He trained in dermatology at the University of Oregon, where he completed his residency.

  • Medical Editor: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

Quick GuideSkin Cancer Symptoms, Types, Images

Skin Cancer Symptoms, Types, Images

What are the signs and symptoms of skin cancer?

Most basal cell carcinomas have few if any symptoms. Squamous cell carcinomas may be painful. Both forms of skin cancer may appear as a sore that bleeds, oozes, crusts, or otherwise will not heal. They begin as a slowly growing bump on the skin that may bleed after minor trauma. Both kinds of skin cancers may have raised edges and a central ulceration.

Signs and symptoms of basal cell carcinomas include:

  • Appearance of a shiny pink, red, pearly, or translucent bump
  • Pink skin growths or lesions with raised borders that are crusted in the center
  • Raised reddish patch of skin that may crust or itch, but is usually not painful
  • A white, yellow, or waxy area with a poorly defined border that may resemble a scar

Signs and symptoms of squamous cell carcinomas include:

  • Persistent, scaly red patches with irregular borders that may bleed easily
  • Open sore that does not go away for weeks
  • A raised growth with a rough surface that is indented in the middle
  • A wart-like growth

Actinic keratoses (AK), also called solar keratoses, are scaly, crusty lesions caused by damage from ultraviolet light, often in the facial area, scalp, and backs of the hands. These are considered precancers because if untreated, up to 10% of actinic keratoses may develop into squamous cell carcinomas.

When is a mole dangerous or high-risk for becoming a skin cancer?

Moles are almost always harmless and only very rarely turn into skin cancer. If a mole becomes cancerous, it would be a melanoma. There is a precancerous stage, called a dysplastic nevus, which is somewhat more irregular than a normal mole. An early sign of melanoma is noticing a difference in a mole: asymmetry, irregular border, color changes, increasing diameter, or other evolving changes may signify a mole is melanoma. Moles never become squamous cell carcinomas or basal cell carcinomas.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/30/2016

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