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The most common sign of skin cancer is a local change in the skin’s colour or a sore that does not heal. However, skin cancer symptoms vary widely according to type, so it’s wise to check your skin regularly to catch any potentially cancerous marks early.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

This type of cancer begins in the lowest layer of the epidermis (the basal cell layer), usually on sun-exposed areas, such as the head, neck, and upper shoulders. However, 20% of people with basal cell carcinoma develop it in areas not exposed to the sun. This type of cancer grows slowly and rarely spreads to other parts of the body, but if left untreated, it will continue to grow and may ultimately invade the bone or other tissues beneath the skin. Basal cell carcinoma is usually treated successfully as an out-patient procedure. Symptoms include:

  • A small, dome-shaped bump, frequently covered by small, superficial blood vessels
  • A bump that is pearlescent, shiny or translucent
  • May become scaly or crusty patches or open sores with a pearlescent or milky appearance and raised edges
  • Bleeding after minor injury
  • Growths enlarge may very slowly so subtle changes may not be noticed

Nevoid basal cell carcinoma syndrome

Skin growths are similar to basal cell carcinomas. In addition, the person may also have:

  • Hamartomas (e.g. retinal) - overgrowth of normal cells
  • Medulloblastomas  -  a low grade tumor of the brain
  • Meningiomas -  localized benign growth of the cells lining the brain
  • Calcified ovarian fibromas  - benign ovarian fibrous growth
  • Cardiac fibroma -  non cancerous fibrous growth of the heart

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

This carcinoma begins in the upper layer of the epidermis (squamous cell layer), usually on sun-exposed areas, such as the head, neck and back of the hands. However, it may appear on skin elsewhere on the body (such as the lips, tongue or the lining of the mouth) and on skin that has been burned or exposed to chemicals or radiation therapy. Of these tumours, 95 per cent can be cured if found and treated early, particularly if they arise in areas of sun-damaged skin. Rarely, squamous cell carcinomas can grow and spread to lymph nodes. Symptoms include:

  • Firm, red bump
  • Scaly, bleeding or crusty growth or patch of skin
  • Sore that does not heal
  • As it grows, it may become raised and firm
  • Eventually, it may appear like  an open sore (not always) and grows into the underlying tissue


Bowen’s disease
isatype of squamous cell carcinoma limited to the epidermis. The affected area is red-brown and scaly or crusted and flat. It may resemble a patch of dermatitis, psoriasis, a fungal infection or a type of basal cell carcinoma.

Actinic Keratosis

These spots can look like regular skin, but may feel like sandpaper. Symptoms and signs include:

  • Barely visible spots or localized red areas of skin
  • May become thick, scaly and sometimes crusty patches of skin
  • May change to a yellow-brown colour
  • Visible spots may range between a few millimetres up to 2 cm or more in diameter.
  • Skin discoloration, which may include dark or light pink, red skin 

Learn About Skin Conditions

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