Symptoms and Diagnosis

In this section you can find out more about:

Remember, everyone is different and your symptoms and experience may be different from that described below. If you have any further questions, be sure to ask your medical professional.

Symptoms of Skin Cancer

Non-melanoma skin cancers tend to occur on areas of the skin exposed to the sun, such as the face and neck. BCCs are often fragile and may bleed after shaving or a minor injury. A general warning sign of skin cancer is a sore that won't heal or that repeatedly bleeds and scabs over. These symptoms may not necessarily indicate that you have skin cancer. This is the reason to see your doctor for further investigation.

BCCs may also appear as:

  • A small pink or red bump, often with visible blood vessels
  • A flat, flesh-coloured or brown scar-like lesion
  • Open sores, which may have oozing or crusted areas.


SCC may appear as:

  • Rough or scaly red patches, which might crust or bleed
  • Raised growths or lumps.

In general, you should see your doctor if you develop an abnormal patch of skin or a change in the appearance of a mole.

A melanoma can develop anywhere on the skin. The most important warning sign for melanoma is a new spot on the skin or an existing mole that is changing in size, shape or colour.

Use the ABCDE rule as a guide to the usual signs of melanoma:

  • Asymmetry: The shape of a spot is often uneven and asymmetrical, unlike a mole which is usually round and even.
  • Border: The border or edges of a melanoma are often ragged, notched or blurred.
  • Colour: The colour of a melanoma is often not the same all over, and may include shades of brown or black, sometimes with patches of pink, red, white or blue.
  • Diameter: The size of a melanoma is usually larger than 6mm, but they can sometimes be smaller than this.
  • Evolving: The spot is changing in size, shape, colour, or elevation over time, or new symptoms develop, such as bleeding, itching or crusting.
Here are some examples of different types of skin cancer:
melanoma_.png

A melanoma with colour variations and an irregular border.

smallbasalcellcarcinoma.png

A small basal cell carcinoma.

Basal cell carcinomas may also appear as:

  • A small pink or red bump, often with visible blood vessels
  • A flat, flesh-coloured or brown scar-like lesion
  • Open sores, which may have oozing or crusted areas
largerbasalcellcarcinoma_.png

A larger basal cell carcinoma with a crusted area.

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A squamous cell carcinoma.

A squamous cell carcinoma may appear as:

  • Rough or scaly red patches, which might crust or bleed
  • Raised growths or lumps.

You should see your doctor about any abnormal patch of skin or if a mole changes in appearance.

A Diagnosis of Skin Cancer

A diagnosis of skin cancer usually begins with a visit to your GP to check out your symptoms.

You doctor will examine the area of skin you’re concerned about and may use an instrument called a dermascope to get a magnified view of the skin.

If your doctor suspects skin cancer, he or she may carry out a number of tests. These may include:

  • A biopsy:
    • This is when the mole or area of skin is removed and then analysed for cancer cells.
  • Blood tests
    • Blood might be taken to know more about your general health.
  • A chest x-ray
    • This is often done to see whether the cancer may have spread to your lungs.
  • Imaging scans, such as a CT scan or MRI
    • Scans are done to see whether any cancer present may have spread to other parts of the body

The Stages of Melanoma


The results of your biopsy will be used to determine what stage of skin cancer you have.

The staging of cancer is simply a way of determining how far the cancer has spread. There are five stages of skin cancer and these are:

Stage

Definition

Stage 0

This is sometimes known as melanoma in situ and means that abnormal cells have been found in the epidermis.

Stage I

The melanoma is not more than 2mm thick.

Stage II

The melanoma is more than 2 to 4mm thick with no spread to the lymph vessels or nodes

Stage III

The melanoma can be any thickness, but has also spread to lymph vessels or lymph nodes

Stage IV


(Metastatic or Secondary). The cancer has spread to other parts of your body, most often the liver.


Your doctor will make treatment decisions based on the stage of cancer you have, the size and location of the tumour and your general health.