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Are there Symptoms of Skin Cancer? + 8 Signs to Look for

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Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer and Australia has one of the highest rates in the world. However, like other types of cancer, skin cancer is easiest to treat if it is detected early. This is why it is so important to understand your skin and to understand the difference between skin cancer symptoms and signs.

Skin cancer occurs when skin cells are damaged, causing them to grow abnormally.  In this article, we will discuss whether or not there are symptoms of skin cancer and what spots, growths or changes to look out for.

Key Takeaways

  • Skin cancers can not be felt and often present no physical symptoms to your general health
  • Changes in the appearance of your skin are the first signs of skin cancer  
  • Regular skin checks are essential for early skin cancer detection 
  • The majority of skin cancers are caused by sun damage, so it is important to protect yourself

Skin cancer symptoms vs signs: What's the difference?

Skin cancer symptoms vs signs


A disease's symptoms are changes that you can feel in your body that affect your sense of well-being.

Symptoms of skin cancer: There are often no noticeable symptoms of skin cancer (such as feeling unwell, having a headache etc.) So, instead of looking for symptoms of skin cancer, you will need to look for signs of skin cancer.


Signs are things that can be measured using diagnostic tools. For example, a blood test or X-ray. Your healthcare provider uses both signs and symptoms to diagnose medical conditions. 

Signs of skin cancer: A change in your skin is the most common sign of skin cancer. 

What to do if you think you have symptoms of skin cancer?

Remember that it is unlikely that you will have symptoms of skin cancer. It's important to understand you can feel perfectly well and have skin cancer. However, if you observe signs of skin cancer, such as something visibly suspicious on your skin, make an appointment at your local skin check clinic.

8 Signs of skin cancer to watch for

Seborrhoeic keratoses spot

4 Common Signs of Skin Cancer

No two skin cancers look the same and different types can appear differently. This is why it is important that you develop a regular habit of checking your skin. Get to know the early stages of skin cancer so that any noticeable changes can be detected quickly. 

Seek medical advice if you have sores, lumps, blisters, ulcers, lesions, freckles or moles that: 

  • Don't heal quickly 
  • Cause pain 
  • Look differently to others on your body
  • Are new or have recently changed 

1. Sore spots that will not heal 

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common and least dangerous skin cancer. It can appear as a red or pearl-like lump or dry scaly or scab-like patch. They can sometimes turn into ulcers, may bleed and usually do not heal quickly. 

2. Tender, bleeding or itchy marks  

Squamous cell carcinoma is a type of skin cancer that often appears as a thick, scaly spot with redness. They can also be firm, red nodules or flat lesions. They normally grow quite slowly, can cause itching, are prone to crusting and may also bleed. 

3. Changes to moles or freckles

Redness, swelling or a change to the appearance of a mole could be melanoma, the deadliest type of skin cancer. The more moles and freckles you have, the greater your risk of developing skin cancer. Becoming familiar with the 'abcde' of melanomas will help you keep an eye on changes in your skin to be aware of.  

4. New moles, freckles or growths 

A discoloured age spot, new growth, or an unusual mark that's causing you to itch could all be warning signs that you need to have your skin checked. If you develop new moles or freckles, you should have these examined by a doctor or dermatologist as early melanoma can sometimes be mistaken for a mole.


4 Less Common Signs of Skin Cancer

Although related to rarer forms of skin cancer, these signs could be worrisome and deserve further investigation. 

It is worth having your skin checked by a professional if you notice any of these signs on your skin: 

  • Firm, shiny lumps of unusual colour  
  • A slow-growing, rubber-like pimple or nodule 
  • Purple patches on the surface of the skin 
  • Hard nodules on the eyelids 

1. Coloured, shiny lumps on skin 

Merkel cell carcinoma develops in the top layer of skin close to nerve endings. It can quickly spread to nearby lymph nodes and then to other organs. It is the second most common cause of skin cancer deaths, following melanoma. 

2. Slow-growing nodules 

Often appearing as a pimple or rough patch of skin, dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans is an uncommon type of cancer that grows from the dermis, or deeper layer of skin. They often grow very slowly over a period of weeks or even years and it is often mistaken for other skin conditions

3. Purple skin patches 

Most commonly affecting those with an already suppressed immune system, Kaposi Sarcoma forms in the skin, mucous membranes, lymph nodes, and other organs. The tumours usually appear as purple patches or bumps on the skin. It is caused by a virus called the human herpesvirus 8. 

4. Hard, painless nodules 

Usually beginning as a thickening of skin or bump on the skin of the eyelid, sebaceous gland carcinoma is an aggressive cancer that originates in the oil glands of the skin. Sufferers sometimes notice yellow lumps near the eyelash which are often mistaken for styes or pink eye. Like the majority of skin cancers, it is thought to be caused by exposure to UV radiation.

What are the risk factors for developing skin cancer?

Anyone can be affected by skin cancer but there are certain genetic and lifestyle factors that can increase your chances of developing skin cancer. These include: 

  • Fair skin and hair 
  • A personal or family history of skin cancer 
  • A large number of moles
  • A compromised immune system 
  • A history of sunburns
  • Spending lots of time exposed to UV rays

How to minimise your risk of getting skin cancer

  • Avoid sun exposure (and sunburn) by seeking shade during the hottest parts of the day
  • Use sunscreen on any area that is exposed to the sun. Don't forget feet and hands, neck, face and shoulders
  • Wear a hat to protect the skin on your ears and scalp and sunglasses to protect the eyes from ultraviolet rays 
  • Use clothing to protect yourself when you know you will be spending time outside 
  • Avoid using tanning beds and solariums 
  • Have regular skin checks with a doctor you trust    

If you suspect you have skin cancer or you notice changes in your skin, the best thing you can do for your health is to seek out the advice of a skin cancer Doctor. After all, early detection saves lives. 

As well as giving you an accurate diagnosis, the highly trained doctors at SunDoctors can inform you of the treatment options available should you require this. It is easy to book an appointment and consultations often take just 15 minutes. 

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