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What Does Skin Cancer Actually Look Like?

Posted on: April 12th, 2022 by Our Team

About one in five Americans get skin cancer in their lifetime. It’s the most common type of cancer in the country, and it affects people of all ages and skin types.

When you think of skin cancer, a large, dark mole might come to mind. While it’s true that irregular moles can be cancerous, it’s far from the only way skin cancer presents.

In fact, there are three main types of skin cancer: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Each type has its own characteristics, and they look different.

Learning what skin cancer looks like is essential because identifying it early is the best way to get effective care. Michael Rains, MD, FAAD, and our team at Beacon Dermatology can help. We specialize in skin cancer care, and in this blog, we’re taking a closer look at what skin cancer looks like.

Different types of skin cancer look unique

Skin cancer typically develops in areas of your body regularly exposed to the sun, like your head, face, shoulders, arms, or legs. However, some types can occur in areas that don’t get as much sun exposure.

Here’s what to look for.

Basal cell carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer. It usually looks like a small, shiny bump or a patch of skin that’s pink or red.

The bump may be raised, flat, or have a depressed center. Sometimes, it has a pearly or waxy appearance. Basal cell carcinoma is usually painless, but it may bleed, scab over, or have visible blood vessels.

Squamous cell carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type of skin cancer. It typically appears as a scaly, red patch of skin that feels rough to the touch. This type of skin cancer usually develops on parts of your skin that get plenty of sun exposure.

Sometimes, squamous cell carcinoma looks more like a wart or a sore that doesn’t heal. The growth may be dome-shaped or have a depressed center. Squamous cell carcinoma usually isn’t painful, but the patches can be itchy.


Melanoma is relatively rare, but it’s the most dangerous type of skin cancer and is responsible for most skin cancer-related deaths. It can appear as a new mole on your skin, or it can develop in an existing mole.

Melanomas usually have an irregular shape, ragged edges, or uneven color. They’re often asymmetrical and larger than a pencil eraser. Melanomas may itch or bleed, but it’s usually painless.

How to identify skin cancer

Skin cancer is treatable, and treatment is most effective when the cancer is identified and diagnosed early. The best way to protect your health is to perform regular self-exams and be familiar with the appearance of your skin. If you notice changes, make an appointment with our team for a professional skin exam.

Here are some steps to follow when checking your skin:

  • Step 1: Examine your skin from head to toe, including your scalp, palms, nails, and the soles of your feet.
  • Step 2: Look for any changes in the color, shape, or size of moles, freckles, and other spots on your skin.
  • Step 3: Pay attention to any new growths or sores that don’t heal within a few weeks.
  • Step 4: Check for any changes in the texture or feel of your skin, such as scaly patches, bumps, or rough spots.

If you notice any changes in your skin, make an appointment with Dr. Rains and our team. We offer full skin exams to identify cancer, and we work with you to develop a treatment plan. If you have precancerous lesions, a chemical peel could be a good option. If you have skin cancer, we may recommend electrodesiccation and curettage or surgical excision.

Skin cancer is serious, but proactive care can keep your skin healthy. Learn more about preventing, identifying, and treating skin cancer with an appointment at Beacon Dermatology.

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