Skin Cancer Awareness Month: The Visible Signs of Skin Cancer

Northeast Dermatology Associates dermatologist checking for skin cancer Skin Cancer Awareness Month: The Visible Signs of Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is perhaps the easiest form of cancer to detect and identify early because it’s often a visible disease. The visual symptoms and warning signs of skin cancer vary from condition to condition and depend on your skin, so it’s important to know all of the ways it can rear its ugly head.

Precancer or Actinic Keratosis

Before cancer has a chance to fully form, it will sometimes show as precancer. Actinic keratosis, or solar keratosis are lesions that develop on the skin, most often as a result of sun damage. These precancerous growths have a 10% chance of becoming cancer. When you consider the fact that most people develop more than one AK at a time, the likelihood of skin cancer is pretty high. AKs appear on the face, back, neck, ears, arms and lips most regularly because of their sustained exposure to solar radiation. They can, however, develop anywhere on the body. Most often, AKs are crusty bumps that develop slowly. They can be a few different colors, like pink or red. Sometimes they are just slightly darker than your skin, or the same color as your skin. These bumps often become crusty or flaky and are usually rough in texture. While actinic keratoses most often precede squamous cell carcinoma, any type of skin cancer can result from an AK. Treating an AK early can prevent skin cancer from ever forming, so recognizing that your skin is undergoing changes is very important.

Squamous Cell and Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma, or BCC is the most common form of cancer in the United States, with over 1 million diagnoses each year. That wasn’t a typo, in addition to being the most common form of skin cancer, BCCs are the leading type of cancer in the world. As we’ve discussed, AKs in their various forms might be a sign that skin cancer will develop. Most commonly, they develop into squamous cell carcinoma, a somewhat more rare form of skin cancer with visual symptoms resembling BCC. BCCs and SCCs can appear as scaly, pearlescent or pale bumps on the skin. Both often make skin look red or pink, and can look like a wound or sore. Ultimately, both of these forms of cancer can show up in any number of ways so it’s important to be on the lookout for any changes to your skin. Keep in mind, both of these forms of cancer develop in the deeper layers of the skin, so sometimes there won’t be much in the way of visual symptoms. BCC and SCC can look like nothing, or as simple as a raised patch of skin or bump.


Melanoma is the deadliest form of cancer for a few reasons. One, melanoma often resembles a mole and two, melanoma moves very quickly in comparison to other forms of skin cancer. Fast-moving skin cancer like melanoma can metastasize into more serious cancer and spread into vital organs. When caught early, melanoma can be treated with ease. However, once cancer spreads internally, more complicated surgeries are required. Though it can resemble a mole, there are some things to keep an eye out for with a lesion caused by melanoma. If your mole is asymmetrical, has odd or jagged borders, is a different color than a normal brown mole, or has multiple colors, it may be melanoma. Moles larger than a pencil eraser or those that often change are also more likely to be melanoma. In addition to your skin, melanoma might manifest visually in your fingernails. A black spot, streak, or line beneath your fingernail may be evidence of melanoma. Pay attention to your nails’ visual health if you are concerned about melanoma or have suffered from it before.

Skin cancer often appears visually, but how and when it shows up can vary from case to case. If you notice any of the conditions or changes outlined, do not hesitate to call the doctors at Northeast Dermatology Associates.

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