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Signs of Skin Cancer on the Face + How to Prevent It

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The face is one of the most common parts of the body where skin cancer can develop. It's no wonder, given that it's the most exposed area of the body along with the ears, neck and hands. There is good news however- you can prevent skin cancer on the face.

Fortunately, the prognosis isn't all doom and gloom. By understanding information about the different types of skin cancers and their tell-tale signs, you can ensure early detection or better yet, total prevention of skin cancer on the face.

Today, we'll look at how to prevent skin cancer on your face and the different signs to watch for in order to stop it

What are the most common types of skin cancer on the face? 

There are three main types of skin cancers on the face.

  • Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)
  • Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)
  • Melanoma

Fortunately, the vast majority of skin cancers are either BCC's or SCC's and early treatment by your doctor have great health outcomes. 

Signs of skin cancer on the face

Woman checking face in mirror

Checking your skin to identify any changes early will offer the greatest opportunity for a successful skin cancer treatment based on a timely diagnosis. This will help avoid surgery on your face and possible disfigurement.

Basal cell carcinoma signs  

  • A pearly spot or waxy bump.
  • A scar-like ulceration on the skin that is dry and scaly with a flesh or bright pink colour. 
  • A bleeding or scabbing wound that doesn't heal and may have some black or brown areas.
  • A growing wart like sore that may itch.

Squamous cell carcinoma signs

  • A hard nodule accompanied by redness.
  • A crusting flat lesion that may appear scaly. 
  • A rough patch accompanied by tenderness. 
  • Spots that have an uneven border or colour and change size.

Melanoma signs

  • A brownish mole that has darker specks within it.
  • A mole that changes colour, feels different, is accompanied by swelling or a change in size.
  • An ulceration marked by an itching or burning sensation. 
  • Inflammation and pain elsewhere such as in the lymph nodes could be a sign of metastasis if the melanoma has started to spread.

More about these 3 common face skin cancers

Man having mole removed from cheek

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)

Basal cells are situated in the lower part of the epidermis referred to as the basal layer. BCC's make up about 70% of the non-melanoma cancers in Australia and are the least dangerous of all the skin cancer types. They tend to grow slowly over months or years and rarely spread to another location and are very treatable by your dermatologist or doctor. 

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)

This is the second most common type of skin cancer and is found in the top layer of the epidermis. They grow quickly in as little as a few weeks or months. Early diagnosis is paramount to avoiding the aggressive spread of disease. 

Bowen's disease

This is an early form of SCC that hasn't spread beyond the first skin layer. Although benign, general advice is to remove them when detected.

Actinic keratosis

Another precancerous skin condition related to SCC, actinic keratosis or solar keratosis rarely become cancers. However, they must still be closely monitored via regular skin checks.


A much less common type of skin cancer but considered to be the most dangerous. Melanoma occurs when melanocytes (cells that give people their tan or brown colour) begin to abnormally mutate due to excessive absorption of UV radiation 

Melanoma is more likely to spread to other areas from its original site of the tumour. This type of skin cancer may require treatments such as surgery, radiotherapy treatment, immunotherapy or chemotherapy. 

How to prevent your face from getting skin cancer

The good news is that you can stave off the effects of the sun and prevent your face from getting skin cancer.

For complete protection, utilise a combination of the following measures for yourself and your family. Educating your children and teens on these skin cancer facts will protect them from skin damage in the future.

1. Check the UV index before leaving home

Ultraviolet radiation cannot be seen or felt. It doesn't rely on high temperatures or cloudless skies, and the amount of UV radiation can be deceiving. It is advisable to track the UV index to see the amount of protection you need for you and your family. Head to the Bureau of Meteorology website to see what hours of the day you need to limit your sun exposure.

Another valuable tool that will help with sun safety is the SunSmart App. Not only can you review the intensity of the UV rays, but you can also set notification alerts. 

2. Cover up 

Covering your head and scalp with sun-protective clothing will go a long way in shielding your face from the damaging rays. Opt for a broad-rimmed or legionnaire type hat to safeguard your whole face, including your forehead, the back of the neck, your nose and ears. 

Investing in a pair of UV-blocking sunglasses will offer further protection to your eyes and can help avoid premature ageing. They will also reduce the risk of UV related eye disease. 

3. Use broad spectrum sunscreen

There is no doubt that a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) water resistant sunscreen will help guard your face against skin cancer. Choose an SPF of 30 or higher and apply 20 minutes prior to leaving home. The key is to reapply every two hours for optimal protection and to avoid any redness or pain caused by UV radiation. 

There is a plethora of sunscreens on the market to meet your specific skin care routine. From creams to powder formulations for make-up to sunscreens ideal for acne prone skin or sunscreens for eczema prone skin, there is no reason to skimp on this essential measure of protection.

It is worthwhile remembering that sunscreen shouldn't be reserved just for bright days or summer. UV radiation can be high in cold, overcast weather and you will find wearing sunscreen is even a necessity when indoors whilst working with blue light.

4. Seek shade outdoors

Shade offers one of the best and most convenient ways of reducing sun exposure and the risk of skin cancer. Using an umbrella, sitting under a tree or other shelter will help thwart those sun-generated freckles. 

It's important to note that no shade will completely prevent indirect UV radiation. The sun's rays rebound off any reflective surface including grass, sand, water and snow. Adequate protection requires shade to be used along with other considerations, such as wearing sunscreen, sunglasses and protective clothing. 

5. Avoid tanning

Tanning causes genetic changes to the epidermis layer and potentiates cell carcinomas. The skin will attempt to fight against the injury by generating melanin, which results in the darkening of the skin or getting a tan. Interestingly, the damage which ensues is cumulative and begins from the very first tan.

Tanning is the visible sign of sun damage and accelerates the risk of cancer as well as wrinkles, dark spots, freckles and parched skin. Avoid tanning beds, and outdoor as well as indoor tanning to minimise your risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma and basal cell carcinoma or the pain of melanomas. 

6. Check your skin regularly

Most people neglect to examine their skin and are unfamiliar with the moles or spots that exist. Whether it's a new mole, growth of a lump or a new spot, it is imperative to take note of any changes including size and colour. 

Spend time in front of a mirror and identify any fresh skin growths. Taking a photo is the best way to record any symptoms and paves the way for an early diagnosis. Your GP or skin cancer doctor can use your pictures as a reference point.

Additionally, seeing your skin cancer doctor once a year will keep you and your family in good stead for healthy skin and skin cancer prevention.

What are the risk factors for developing skin cancer on the face?

Smiling woman with red hair and freckles

Whilst risk factors can have an influence on developing skin cancer on the face, they aren't the sole cause of it. Understanding your risk factors, asking questions and having discussions with your doctor may enable you to make a more informed decision about your health and lifestyle.

Risk factors that may increase risk of developing skin cancer on the face: 

  • People who live in a location with greater sun exposure or who spend long periods of time outdoors.
  • Those who have lighter skin colour and light eyes such as blue or green.
  • Skin type that is more susceptible to sunburn, freckles, redness or pain in the sun.
  • Blonde or red hair colour. 
  • More men develop cancer cells than women.
  • A family history of skin cancer.
  • Those over 50 years of age are prone to an increased risk of skin cancer on the face.
  • People with a diagnosis of skin cancer or tumour in the past. 
  • Previous radiation, chemotherapy or immunotherapy for cancer.
  • Higher number of existing moles, freckles or spots.

When should you talk to a skin care doctor?

Skin cancer doctor chatting to patient

There are many factors that will lead to seeking the services and support of a skin cancer doctor. If you observe any changes to your skin's appearance, such as a new growth, a bleeding sore, a mole that is changing colour or size, it is imperative to reach out. Each of those changes to your skin is a warning sign.

Likewise, if you are experiencing any itching, redness or tenderness on your face, seek advice from your GP or skin cancer doctor immediately. 

Treatment options for skin cancer on the face

A doctor will do a thorough skin cancer check and provide relevant advice on steps for your care.

Treatment options will initially entail a biopsy and other skin cancer tests. Therapy may include medication, freezing, immunotherapy, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, scraping or surgery. Your doctor will discuss all side effects. The prognosis for skin cancer patients is good, especially when caught early.

When was the last time you had a skin check to reduce your risk of skin cancer on your face?

 All types of skin cancer respond well to early detection and treatment. SunDoctors skin cancer clinics care about the health and safety of you and your family. 

Click here to book or call us on 13SKIN (13 75 46) to get more information.  

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