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  • Skin Cancer Symptoms

    The number one warning sign for skin cancer is any change in the size, shape, or growth of a mole, birthmark, or other skin growth.

    People of all skin tones are affected by skin cancer. Skin cancer develops primarily on ares of the skin that are exposed to the sun—the face, lips, ears, scalp, neck, shoulders, forearms, hands, and portions of the legs. Women are more likely to develop skin cancer on the legs than men.

    Although exposure to the sun is the number one risk factor for skin cancer, cancer of the skin may also develop on areas of the skin that are rarely or never exposed to sunlight, such as the palms of the hands, beneath your finger and toenails, the genital area, and between the toes.

    Common Signs & Symptoms


    Melanoma skin cancer is identified using the ABCDE system:

    Asymmetry: Does the lesion appear uneven or irregular in shape?
    Border: Are the borders rough or scaly in texture or appearance?
    Color: Is the color of the lesion non-uniforn? Does it contain various shades of brown, tan black, red, white, and blue?
    Diameter: Is the skin growth larger than ¼ inch (roughly the size of a pencil eraser)?
    Evolving: Have there been any changes in the overall appearance, size, shape, surface or color of the lesion?


    Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer. It occurs on areas of the skin that receive regular sun exposure, such as the neck, hands, and the scalp.

    Basal cell carcinomas typicaly appear as waxy or pearl-like bumps and may expand to 6 inches in diameter. Some basal cell carcinomas appear flat and/or scaly in texture.


    Morpheaform basal cell carcinoma is a rare type of basal cell carcinoma that appears as white, waxy scars with irregular borders. These lesions can go unnoticed and may develop into invasive malignancies.


    Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most commonly diagnosed form of skin cancer. Much like basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma appears primarily on sun-exposed areas of the skin, but may also develop throughout the entire body, including the anus, mouth, or genitals.

    Squamous cell carcinomas generally appear as firm, scaly-textured bumps. When squamous cell carcinoma develops on the anus or genitals, the lesions appear as red elevated bumps. 85-90% of all vaginal cancers are squamous cell carcinoma. When squamous cell carcinoma develops in the oral cavity, it appears as an ulcer or as a flat, white lesion.

    Associated Disorders

    The following disorders have been linked to skin cancer development:


    This disorder is characterized by the development of rough or scaly-textured skin lesions. These lesions may be flesh-toned, red, or brown in coloration. Actinic keratosis primarily develops on sun-exposed areas of the skin.

    When actinic keratosis develops into skin cancer, it becomes squamous cell carcinoma.

    Actinic keratosis progresses slowly and may disappear and reappear at random. Years may pass before any changes occur in skin lesions associated with actinic keratosis. The disorder is easily mistaken for psoriasis or eczema.


    Actinic cheilitus is a type of actinic keratosis that is primariy confined to the lips. Lesions associated with actinic cheilitus are typically white, pallid, or reddish in coloration.

    HIV / AIDS

    The HIV/AIDS virus has been linked to the development of skin cancer. Research is ongoing in this arena. Viral infections associated with HIV/AIDS may contribute to the development of skin cancer and other malignant diseases.


    Although uncommon, exposure to arsenic may lead to a precancerous disorder known as arsenical keratosis. Lesions associated with arsenic keratosis appear as small corns on the hands and feet.


    Skin Cancer Foundation
    American Academy of Dermatology