Page Menu

How Can I Tell if I Have Skin Cancer?

There are several types of skin cancer and each produces its own set of symptoms. For instance, basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer, can lead to the formation of pearl-shaped bumps with visible blood vessels, fleshy bumps with depressed centers, smooth and shiny bumps that resemble moles, red and tender flat spots and scar-like patches of firm skin. It’s common for these lesions to resist healing and instead itch, bleed and scab over and over again.

Squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common form of skin cancer, can cause firm but tender-to-the-touch bumps, raised growths resembling warts, scaly patches of skin and external ulcers. It can also lead to the development of mouth sores and thickened skin around the lower lip.

Melanoma, a relatively uncommon but highly aggressive form of skin cancer, can produce moles that have an asymmetrical shape, irregular border, varied color or large diameter.

The importance of regular self-exams

When skin cancer is in its early stages, it generally doesn’t cause any pain. That’s why it’s especially important to regularly monitor your skin for any visual changes, even if subtle. After bathing, use a handheld mirror and a full-length mirror to inspect your entire body. Although you should certainly pay attention to areas of your body that are frequently exposed to the sun—including your face, neck, shoulders, arms and hands—you’ll also want to examine portions that are typically covered. Also be sure to check your scalp, your fingernails and toenails and the skin between your fingers and toes.

The only way to accurately tell whether you have skin cancer is to be evaluated by a medical professional, such as a dermatologist or an oncologist. He or she will likely ask you about your health history, conduct a physical exam and perform a biopsy. (In some cases, imaging scans are also needed to check for signs of cancer in the lymph nodes and other organs.)

If you have unusual skin changes, you can turn to Moffitt Cancer Center for a thorough evaluation and treatment, if necessary. Our Cutaneous Oncology Program, which is led by a multispecialty team exclusively focusing on skin malignancies, offers skin cancer screening services. You can request an appointment by calling 1-888-663-3488 or completing our online new patient registration form.