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What Does Skin Cancer Look Like?

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Terms like skin cells, melanoma and treatment may seem overwhelming and our aim is to bring you the latest in skin cancer information so you can feel well informed to provide regular self-skin checks. Skin cancer is common in both men and women and can range from highly treatable to life-threatening, based on the type of cancer found, wherein the body and at what stage of growth. Skin cancer is generally preventable through proper sun protection and we have more information about the impact of the sun on the skin in our blog. 

Skin cancer forms when the skin cells are under pressure or when sun-exposed areas of the skin are damaged. When exposed to the sun your body receives ultraviolet (UV) radiation and skin damage occurs. The Cancer Council recognises three main types of skin cancer, dependent on where the sun damage occurs, targeting either the basal cells, squamous cells and melanocytes in the skin. Common skin cancers can attack all sun-exposed areas across different parts of the body and it's integral to know the warning signs of what to look out for on your skin to ensure quick treatment. 

We've addressed some of the most integral points of the information below and have skin cancer images in this blog to help you to know what to look for in your self-examinations. Read on for more information on the types of cancers, what to look for on your skin, and how to determine if that strange spot should be a concern.

How do you know if a spot is skin cancer?

Knowing what to look for on your skin can mean the difference between early treatment or the skin cancer developing into dangerous melanomas. Common skin cancers can be highly treatable if detected early. Regular check-ups are important especially if your risk of skin cancer is increased through family member history or increased sun exposure. Everyone, regardless of skin colour, is at risk of contracting skin cancer, however having fairer skin can place you at greater risk. Regularly checking your body from top to bottom for strange spots, bumps, mole changes, an uncommon sore, or unusual skin growths can be a lifesaving aspect of your routine. 

According to the Cancer Council, when examining all areas of your skin, check for the 'ABCDEs', being:


This is when a mole or spot has different edges or the sides don't match 


The bump, mole or spots don't have straight or outlined edges 


The mole or sore isn't one colour all over and maybe black, pink, red or white 


The spot is larger than 1/4 inch (or a pencil eraser) and may have grown larger since your last check 


The mole changes shape, size or colour over time

By following these simple ABCDEs and by knowing the signs and types of skin cancer, the disease can be easily preventable and treatable. The skin cancer images included in this article are a great starting point for knowing what to look for on your skin. 

What does melanoma look like?

The Cancer Councils understanding Melanoma resource details Melanoma as a type of cancer that is the result of melanin impacted by the suns UV radiation. Melanin forms the pigment and colouration of the skin and can be present in other parts of the body such as the eyes and intestines. Melanomas can vary greatly in how they look and looking out for the ABCDE's is the best way to determine if your spot needs an observation from a dermatologist or skin cancer doctors. Additionally, if the texture or feel of your spot or mole changes or the skin breaks down becoming flaky, itchy, hard, lumpy or painful, a checkup is an urgent priority. 

Our skin cancer images include those of melanoma. Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer and causes very specific changes that differentiate moles from being 'safe', or 'dangerous'. There are three types of skin cells, resulting in three main types of skin cancers, being basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanocytes. Melanoma is cancer that forms in the melanocytes, and is relatively rare in comparison to basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma, making up only 1 per cent of skin cancers (Cancer Council). While being the most dangerous, melanoma is easy to treat if caught from an early warning sign, which is why it's so integral to get to know what to look out for through our skin cancer images, skin cancer facts and a wealth of information on our blog. 



What can be mistaken for skin cancers? 

There are many skin changes that occur over time and much that could be mistaken for skin cancer. The most commonly confused skin lesions and spots that occur over all parts of the body include:

Blackheads and pimples 

Blackheads and pimples occur in almost everyone throughout their lifetime and can grow, change and ooze but should disappear within a couple of weeks, even quicker with proper skincare. Skin cells have a typical turnover cycle of 4-6 weeks so a blackhead or pimple shouldn't last longer than this. 


Psoriasis is a skin condition that attacks healthy skin cells leaving red and itchy patches on the skin. This can often cause a build-up on the surface of the skin that can be mistaken as cancer due to the similarities of silvery scales, small spots and itchy skin that are important to look out for in skin cancer checkups. 


Moles are the most common types of growth found on the skin and they appear mostly in early adulthood. The discovery of a new mole or skin lesions can be concerning and are commonly mistaken as skin cancer. The knowledge of melanomas being asymmetrical, irregular and strangely coloured can heighten this concern, as moles often follow a similar pattern. Therefore, it is always best to err on the side of caution with new or changing moles especially if they present with any pain or strange textures. 

Cherry Angioma 

Cherry angiomas are benign growths that present on the skin as cherry red moles or lumps. Generally found on the chest or back, cherry angioma's are most common in those over 40 and are the result of an overgrowth of blood vessels. These skin conditions are benign and not necessary to remove.

Just as there are skin issues that can be mistaken as skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma can be unfortunately misdiagnosed and confused with benign skin issues. When in doubt, it is always important to get a check-up with an experienced doctor to ensure maximum protection against the development of skin cancer. 

What is basal cell carcinoma?

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer occurring in one in five people throughout their lifetime (Cancer Council). Basal cell carcinoma is caused by sun exposure through UV rays attacking the basal skin cells in the outer layer of the skin. Basal cell carcinoma can often be confused for a blemish or bump and can appear in any area of the body exposed to the sun. 

Basal cell carcinoma is the least dangerous and easily treatable type of skin cancer and most commonly appears in the head, neck or torso. Basal cell carcinoma grows slowly over months or even years and can be easily diagnosed and treated by a GP. 

What are squamous cell carcinomas?

The Cancer Council describes Squamous cell carcinoma as the second most common form of skin cancer and can develop on any part of the body that receives sun exposure. Squamous cell carcinoma isn't as dangerous as melanoma but can spread to other parts of the body if not treated. Squamous cell carcinoma usually develops when the cells in the top layer of the skin grow and divide in an uncontrolled way. 

It takes more than typical exposure to the radiation of the sun to develop this disease and using tanning beds, tanning oil or forgoing sun protection can increase the risk of contracting squamous cell carcinoma exponentially. Squamous cell carcinoma can be aggressive cancer if left untreated and has a risk of spreading quickly to other parts of the body such as the lymph nodes. 

How to lower the risk of skin cancer

After learning about the types of skin cancer and how dangerous the sun can be for your skin, it can be concerning and even frightening. Rest assured; by knowing the signs, the type of cancers to look out for and by using correct sun protection, avoiding the risk of cancer cells growing from the suns radiation is made easier. Early detection is integral and with the right treatment and regular examinations from your doctor, the survival rate for every type of skin cancer is positive. Avoiding damage and danger from the sun is made easy with some simple steps such as applying correct sunscreen year-round (even in winter!), using a hat and some shade, treating sunburn immediately, and paying close attention to any subtle or major changes to the surface of your skin. The appearance, texture and feel of the skin is an important thing to note every day and tuning into the health of your skin should be an integral part of your daily self-care. Additionally, a yearly visit to a dermatologist is an important habit and can mean the difference between detecting your skin issues in time or too late for effective treatment. For more information on protecting yourself and your family from the suns rays, read our blog here. 

SunDoctors have a host of expert doctors in clinics Australia-wide and we exist to bring the latest and best in treatment options, a depth of information and the right doctor for you, every time. We train doctors and provide patient information regularly and we specialise in skin checks and skin cancer treatment. We are dedicated to the early diagnosis of skin cancer with streamlined, doctor-led processes and state of the art facilities and equipment. Our clinics host highly skilled and qualified doctors and are integrated with onsite pathology laboratories to bring your results as soon as possible. We are the largest skin-focused service in Australia. 

Get to the bottom of your skin concerns by calling 13SKIN, or book an appointment online at a clinic near you. We guarantee the highest certainty and the complete solution for your immediate and ongoing skin concerns, along with a priority of excellent patient care and experience. 

For more information, the Cancer Councils fact sheet can be found via this link. 


Skin cancer | Causes, Symptoms & Treatments | Cancer Council

Melanoma | Causes, Symptoms & Treatments | Cancer Council

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