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What Does Skin Cancer Feel Like?

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Not all skin cancers can be felt or hurt to touch. Although, most are accompanied by physical symptoms which should be taken as a warning sign. 

The first sign of skin cancer is usually a visual change to the skin.  

Here we discuss what those skin cancer symptoms are and what to do if you notice suspicious spots or marks on your skin. 

Key Takeaways

  • Skin cancer symptoms can't always be felt
  • Skin cancer can sometimes, but not always, cause pain  
  • A skin cancer diagnosis can also impact your mental health which can cause other physical symptoms
  • It's important to be aware of the warning signs of skin cancer

What does skin cancer feel like to touch?

There are three main types of skin cancers: Basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), and melanoma. Pain is not usually a major symptom of any of these. 

However, some skin cancers can cause symptoms that you can feel. Some spots on the skin may itch or tingle. Sometimes you may be able to make out a lump or bump just under the skin. 

Skin cancers may also cause the texture of a spot or mole to change, or even a new growth to appear. Moles or freckles may suddenly become raised or lesions may appear on your skin.  

Another warning sign of skin cancer involving changes you can feel concerns lymph nodes. They can sometimes become swollen when cancer is advancing.

For example, this can happen with stage III or IV melanoma which has metastasised (spread) to other places in the body. 

What does skin cancer feel like at the beginning?

Melanoma on leg

You are unlikely to feel skin cancer when it's beginning, and would not feel a headache, stomach ache or bruise. But there can be warning signs such as itchiness, burning or rough and scaly skin. These shouldn't be ignored. Swelling, oozing and bleeding are also reasons to make an appointment with a skin cancer doctor.  

Although not yet invasive cancers, lesions that are referred to as keratinocyte dysplasia can develop into non-melanoma skin cancers and have physical symptoms. One type is the common sunspot (actinic or solar keratosis) which is often dry and rough to the touch. 

Another early type of skin cancer is Bowen's disease, or squamous cell carcinoma in situ. It affects the outer layer of skin and sometimes causes rough, scaly patches.

Emotional effects of skin cancer

Hand holding another hand

Although skin cancer may not be physically felt, it can affect the emotional health of a patient. If treatment such as Mohs surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy is required, patients may have questions or worry about the side effects and how it will affect them.

If surgery is required, you may also be concerned about whether it will leave a scar - especially if cancer is detected on a prominent part of the body such as your face, neck, head or scalp, hands, arms, or legs. 

Following treatment, people may also worry about metastatic cancer or a recurrence. This can cause emotional reactions such as anxiety, depression or anger. This chronic stress can often then cause additional physical symptoms such as body aches and pains from tensing muscles or even chest tightness. 

Other physical symptoms of skin cancer

Man in purple shirt holding his wrist

Skin cancers can appear on any area of the body. Most develop on parts that get a lot of sun exposure. Others can occasionally appear in areas that see little sun, such as the soles of the feet, palms or genitals.

There are a variety of changes in the appearance of your skin which you may experience as the first warning sign that something could be wrong. They include:

  • Rough or scaly patches 
  • Lumps or bumps that itch or bleed for no reason
  • change in texture, border or diameter of a mole 
  • Changes to the shape or size of a freckle
  • Redness and swelling of moles and freckles 
  • A new mole or freckle 
  • Asymmetry of a mole or skin growths
  • Black or brown streaks under the fingernails or toenails 
  • A spot or patch of skin that changes from brown to black
  • A blister, ulcer or sore that doesn't heal within a few weeks
  • Patches of skin or a spot with uneven or unusual colour
  • A lesion that appears pearly, pink, red, white or blue
  • Waxy bump with blood vessels or indentations at the centre 

Risk factors for developing skin cancer

It's important to have an awareness of the risk factors for developing skin cancer so that you can take steps to protect yourself. 

Certain genetic and lifestyle factors can increase a person's chance of developing skin cancer including: 

  • Not following sun safety guidelines when exposed to the sun
  • Having fair skin and hair  
  • Personal history of skin cancer or family history
  • A large number of moles or freckles 
  • A compromised immune system 
  • History of sunburn or using tanning beds 

Prevention is key when it comes to skin cancer

Sun protection is critical when it comes to avoiding skin cancers, as most occur as a result of exposure to UV rays. Frequent skin checks will also help you to get to know your skin and help with early detection.

However, if any of the above risk factors apply to you, making an appointment with a skin cancer doctor is always a good idea. 

Talk to your skin doctor today 

skin check is the best way to alleviate any fears you may have about your skin health. 

If you do receive a skin cancer diagnosis, skin cancer doctors like SunDoctors can help you formulate a therapy plan and assist you with information on the treatment options available to you. 

In addition to giving up-to-date advice on skin cancer treatments, the doctors at SunDoctors have access to the latest technology and tools to ensure you have all the support you require for cancer care. 

Call now to book an appointment

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