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Is Skin Cancer Itchy? The Answer May Surprise You...

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Skin cancers can become itchy but just because you have itchy skin, doesn't mean it's cancer. 

Our biggest organ, skin, protects our bodies. It’s frequently exposed to UV rays and chemicals and therefore rashes and itchy spots can be a common problem. 

Not every little itch is something to worry about. However, if an itchy spot or rash is accompanied by other changes to the skin, it could be time to get your skin checked.

Key Takeaways

  • Some skin cancers can cause the skin to itch
  • Itchy skin could also be the result of something simple such as eczema
  • Non-melanoma skin cancers are more likely to cause itching
  • Seeing a skin cancer Doctor is the only way to be sure you are free of cancer

Itchiness can be a symptom of skin cancer

Itchy skin can be a symptom of skin cancer. It could also be something as simple as eczema, dermatitis, dry skin or even an insect bite. However, if an itchy spot appears alongside one of the following skin cancer symptoms, it may pay to have it seen by any doctor who understands skin cancer signs and symptoms.

There are 3 main types of skin cancer:

In their earliest forms, not all skin cancers or precancerous lesions cause itching. It is generally only as they progress that they may cause problems.

All types of skin cancer can cause inflammation. So, while an itch or irritated skin is not the most common symptom, it may alert you to the need for a visual inspection of your skin. 

So, which types of skin cancers are associated with itching?

Squamous Cell Carcinoma on face

Squamous Cell Carcinoma in Situ

Squamous cell carcinoma in situ, or bowen's disease, can be easy to treat if detected early. It's important that it's detected before it spreads further than the top layer of skin. If left untreated, it may progress to squamous cell carcinoma.

Unfortunately, bowen's disease is often mistaken for a minor skin ailment such as eczema, fungal infection or psoriasis as it can be quite itchy


While itching can be a sign of melanoma, it's more often associated with the keratinocyte skin cancers. However, it's still important to be aware of the different signs of melanomas that correspond to each type of melanoma.

For example:

  • Superficial spreading melanoma. The most common type of melanoma, it can develop anywhere on the body.
  • Nodular melanoma. It tends to grow quite quickly, downwards into the deeper layers of skin. 
  • Lentigo maligna melanoma. They normally develop on the face, arms of legs and begin as a brown flat spot. If left untreated, lentigo maligna can develop into an invasive melanoma.  
  • Amelanotic melanoma. Usually red or skin-coloured rather than dark. They can often be hard to diagnose and are sometimes mistaken for other skin conditions. 
  • Acral lentiginous melanoma. A rare melanoma which is usually found on palms of the hand or soles of the feet.

Solar Keratosis

Sunspots, also known as actinic or solar keratosis, are precancerous lesions. It's estimated 40-50% of Caucasian Australians over 40 years of age have them. They are the most common pre-cancer that forms on the skin and are caused by chronic exposure to UV rays. 

These small, dry patches of skin that appear pink, red or flesh-coloured, increase your risk of developing skin cancer. New sunspots can itch or sometimes flare up in hot weather. If left untreated they can develop into squamous cell carcinoma

Merkel Cell Carcinoma

A sore spot or raised bump on the skin may appear harmless. However, these can sometimes be the first sign of rare and aggressive forms of skin cancer such as Merkel cell carcinoma

Why does Merkel cell carcinoma cause itching? Merkel cell carcinoma causes the skin to itch as it can irritate the fine nerve endings in the skin. This also sometimes causes pain, tingling or even numbness. This is because merkel cells are connected to the nerve endings in the skin that are responsible for the sense of touch. 

Non-melanoma (keratinocyte) skin cancers that cause skin to itch

 There are two main types of keratinocyte skin cancers. Most are non-life threatening but can cause itching. They are: 

  • Basal cell carcinoma
  • Squamous cell carcinoma

Although not invasive cancers, keratinocyte dysplasias can develop into non-melanoma skin cancers. This includes: 

  • Bowen's disease or squamous cell carcinoma
  • Solar keratosis (sunspots) 
  • Bowenoid keratosis

Other types of cancer associated with itchy skin

  • Merkel cell carcinoma
  • Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma
  • Kaposi sarcoma

Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma begins in the white blood cells. It is one of several types of lymphoma collectively called non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma can cause round, scaly patches of skin to appear. These can become itchy. 

One rare but extremely itchy type of cutaneous T-cell lymphoma is called Sezary syndrome. It also causes a red rash to appear over the body. 

Other types of cancer including pancreatic, liver and bile duct cancer have been known to cause rashes and itchy skin. 

What else causes skin to itch?

Skin cancer can sometimes be mistaken for other skin ailments such as dermatitis or eczema. This is why it is critical to undergo regular skin examinations with a skin cancer doctor.

However, there are many other reasons why you may be experiencing itchy skin including: 

  • Insect bites or stings
  • An allergy or bad reaction to something in your environment or something you have digested
  • Fungal infections such as thrush or athlete's foot
  • Skin conditions such as eczema 
  • Liver or kidney problems
  • Dermatitis including contact and seborrheic that appear as red, flaky skin on the scalp and other parts of the body. 
  • Sunburn

When to consult a skin care Doctor for itchy skin

Itchy skin can be a symptom of some types of skin cancer but not everyone experiences this.

Additional signs of skin cancer to watch for

  • A lump or bump that varies in colour from white to pink 
  • Firm, red lumps or nodules  
  • A change in the colour or texture of a mole
  • Changes to the edges or borders of existing moles or freckles 
  • A red, scaly patch on the skin 
  • Flat, flesh-coloured or brown lesions which look like scars
  • A lesion which is crusty or bleeding and fails to heal quickly 

However, if a previously non-tender and non-itchy spot suddenly becomes painful and itchy, it is a warning sign to have it checked. A consultation with SunDoctors is pain-free and takes just a few minutes.

As well as giving you an accurate diagnosis, the highly trained doctors at SunDoctors can inform you of the treatment options available should you need it. 

It is easy to book an appointment and you don't need a referral.  Contact us either online or over the phone on 13 75 46. 

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