What are the first signs of skin cancer?
In contrast to many other cancers, skin cancer develops on our largest external organ, is visible and therefore suitable for early detection without invasive procedures. Unfortunately, many non-cancerous conditions can have similar appearances. Experience and specialised equipment can help diagnose skin cancer at the early stages and to distinguish them from similar, non-cancerous spots.
Some Quick Facts on the first signs of skin cancer:
- Beware of new pimple like growth not resolving with 2 - 3 weeks. It may be a fast growing nodular melanoma. To detect these early, it must be checked within a few weeks of it developing.
- A new mole that looks different to its surrounding moles may be the start of a melanoma.
- A mole that starts to itch, bleed, hurts, or shows small changes in colour and size may indicate the cells are starting to behave abnormally.
- A tender or sensitive scaly growth may indicate an early squamous cell carcinoma.
- A non-healing sore may be due to cancerous cells destroying normal tissues. This is not always a late sign and can occur in the early stages of some types of skin cancer.
- A scar like growth can be a type of skin cancer which causes scar tissues to form.
What do early skin cancers look like?
There are a number of signs that may signal the start of an early skin cancer. The following are examples:
- A new pimple like growth that has not resolved with a few weeks. This may be the start of a light coloured or skin coloured melanoma. This is one of the most dangerous melanoma types, since it grows vertically up as well as down. This must be diagnosed at the very early stages or it has a high potential to spread. Preferably it should be detected and removed within 2 months of it developing. Please note that it may not hurt, itch or present with any symptoms. This can be a silent cancer.
- A new mole developing especially if it appears different to its surrounding moles.
- A mole that is starting to change colour, itch, hurt, or bleed. This may be the first sign that the cells are not behaving normally. If it is a melanoma, it may also begin to grow in a 3 dimensional manner, so it becomes wider, taller and deeper. However we are very much concerned about the vertical growth, as it relates directly to its ability to spread via our blood and lymphatic systems under the skin.
- A new scaly or crusty growth which may be slightly tender or sensitive to touch. This may be a superficial type of squamous cell carcinoma, most commonly found on sun exposed parts of the body. The early sign is often the first sensation of tenderness, or slight bleeding from a gentle scratch. Some patients feel that it stings when exposed to further UV radiation from the sun.
- A scratch, sore or scab that takes longer to heal, then breaks down again easily. These sores may actually be skin cancers, which have slowly destroyed the normal skin cells, therefore preventing normal healing. This is a very common situation that we see every week. In some situations, the scab is only the “tip of the iceberg” where the skin cancer has been growing silently without breaking the skin. The early sign here is a sore that does not seem to heal over as one would expect.
- A scar like thickening that seems to enlarge without history of local trauma. This is one of the most intriguing types of skin cancer growth. It feels like a simple scar-like thickening of an area, especially around the nose, ears, and temples. Often the thickening is incorrectly thought to be pressure related from sunglasses, hats, etc. In fact it may be an aggressive type of skin cancer which causes scar tissues to form within the skin cancer. Treatment can be extensive unless it is diagnosed early.
We hope that the above points help you understand the various ways skin cancers can develop and you find this information useful. We must of course stress that you should seek a trained Skin Check WA doctor to help you with any concerns.