What Does Skin Cancer Look Like on Your Face?

Medically Reviewed on 4/16/2021

Skin Cancer On Your Face

The appearance of skin cancer on the face may vary depending on the type of skin cancer.
The appearance of skin cancer on the face may vary depending on the type of skin cancer.

The appearance of skin cancer on the face may vary depending on the type of skin cancer. There are three main types of skin cancer:

1. Basal cell skin cancer (BCC):

  • This is the most common type of skin cancer. They often begin as a small flat pink discoloration on the skin that may appear harmless.
  • As they grow, they appear more raised and pearlier.
  • They may form an ulcer over the body part.
  • They can also bleed easily due to their fragile surface.
  • Treatment may depend on the location and other factors, including whether a lesion is progressive. Surgical excision may be the preferred treatment. Another option may involve scraping away the tumor with a sharp, spoon-like instrument, then cauterizing the area to destroy any remaining cancer cells.
  • This type of cancer is curable if diagnosed in the early stages.
  • This cancer does not spread to distant locations.

2. Squamous cell skin cancer (SCC):

  • This type of cancer usually occurs in people with long-term sun exposure.
  • Early SCC skin cancer on the face can often be difficult to distinguish from a mole or a sunspot, but the appearance of a sharp or sore sensation when pressed can be a helpful clue that it has turned cancerous.
  • As these cancers progress, they become much crustier. They may appear red and inflamed and often the soreness worsens.
  • Treatment may include surgical removal of the tumor and surrounding tissue. Mohs surgery is recommended for highly visible or thin-skinned areas because it spares as much healthy skin as possible. During surgery, the surgeon may slice off small slivers of the skin. They examine each sliver under a microscope so that they can stop when the area is cancer-free.
  • This type of cancer is also curable if diagnosed in the early stages.

3. Melanoma:

  • This skin cancer is known for its potential to spread. Some people associate this cancer with black and irregular edges. However, it is not always the case. 
  • People believe that they will bleed and become sore. However, these symptoms may only occur during late-stage melanoma, and their early forms may look quite different.
  • On the face, the appearance of this skin cancer can be quite varied. They often look like early “old age spots” where one part has become irregular. A helpful clue is the appearance of a darker section on one edge or a mole that appears to be changing.
  • If there is a brown blemish on the skin that has changed or darkened in one section, it is important to have this professionally checked with an experienced dermatologist.
  • Although most melanomas on the face are dark-colored, some rarer forms can appear as a firm pinkish red lump.
  • More than 75 percent of skin cancer deaths result from melanoma.
  • Treatment options may include surgery. Every cancerous cell must be removed so that it can't spread. This can mean a significant amount of the skin may be removed. Trouble arises when melanoma spreads; conventional cancer treatments (such as chemotherapy) are used but may not work well.
  • This is curable if only detected at a very early stage.

Causes of skin cancer:

  • Prolonged sun exposure is the leading cause of these skin cancers. The damage caused by chronic sun exposure and repeated sunburn as a child persists long after the burn and tan has faded. 20 to 40 years later, after repeated small doses of the harmful rays of the sun, the cancer cells may get triggered.
  • Facial skin cancer is the result of mutations in the skin cells that cause them to grow out of control.
  • The biggest risk factor for skin cancer is ultraviolet radiation from sunlight and tanning beds.
  • Those with fair skin, a history of sunburns, and excessive sun exposure, moles, or a family history of skin cancer are more prone to developing it.

Skin cancer affects people of all colors and races, although those with light skin who sunburn easily have a higher risk. Research has estimated that one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. According to the American Cancer Society, about 3.3 million basal and squamous cell skin cancers are diagnosed in America each year with an estimation of more than 87,000 new cases of melanoma predicted for the year 2020. Early diagnosis can be the difference between life and death. According to American Cancer Society research, if melanoma is caught in stage I, the 5-year survival rate is 97 percent. The survival rate with late detection can be as low as 15 percent. After examining the skin, if any spots trigger a question, it is vital to be examined by a dermatologist as soon as possible.

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Medically Reviewed on 4/16/2021
The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. How to Spot Skin Cancer. https://www.mdanderson.org/content/dam/mdanderson/documents/about-md-anderson/Community%20Services/Spot-Skin-Cancer.pdf

American Cancer Society. Key Statistics for Basal and Squamous Cell Skin Cancers. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/basal-and-squamous-cell-skin-cancer/about/key-statistics.html