About 132,000 cases of melanoma are diagnosed each year worldwide, along with between 2 million and 3 million non-melanoma skin cancers, according to data from the World Health Organization (WHO). Most people think skin cancer is easy to spot, but the fact is, the signs and symptoms associated with skin cancers can be subtle, which means diagnosis may be delayed.
The best way to prevent serious and even life-threatening complications from skin cancer is to diagnose the cancer as early as possible. Knowing these 7 warning signs can help ensure you seek care during the early stages of the disease, before the cancer has a chance to spread or develop into a more advanced and more difficult stage to treat.
1. Changes in Mole Appearance
Melanoma is the least common type of skin cancer, but it’s also the deadliest, and the lesions often look like ‘regular’ moles with a few important distinctions.
The best way to remember these differences is by remembering “ABCDE”, simple guidelines found on the Cancer Council Australia website:
- Asymmetry: One side of the mole looks different from the other
- Border: The mole has an irregular, uneven, or blurry border
- Colour: The mole has an unusual colour or contains several colours.
- Diameter: The mole has a diameter of 6 mm or more, roughly the size of a pencil eraser or larger
- Evolving: The mole’s size, shape, colour, or other characteristics have changed
Recently, Cancer Council announced an update to the diagnosis guidelines to include elevation, firmness, and growth (EFG).
- Elevated: The mole is raised above the skin
- Firm: The mole is solid to the touch, firmer than the surrounding skin and doesn’t flatten if pressed
- Growing: The mole is gradually getting larger
One more thing to remember: while the growth of a new mole could indicate the presence of melanoma, even moles you’ve had since you were born can wind up becoming cancerous as you get older. That’s why it’s important to check all your moles on a regular basis in search of any changes in the way they look and also to be mindful of symptoms like itching or oozing.
2. Skin Changes after Mole Removal
Some people think that if they have a mole removed, they’re no longer at risk for cancer in that area. But cancer cells can extend much deeper into the skin, far below the surface of the mole. If you’ve had a mole removed, any unusual spot or pigmentation that appears on or around the scar should be checked.
3. Changes in Your Fingernails and Toenails
Skin cancer can develop anywhere on your skin, including the skin under your fingernails and toenails. Most commonly, melanoma appears as a dark spot or streak below the nail. If you wear nail polish regularly, check your nails between applications to look for discolouration or other changes, and always remove your nail polish before having a MoleMap or other skin cancer screening.
4. Sore or Pimple That Won’t Go Away
Some skin cancers cause pinkish or reddish bumps that look a lot like pimples, but unlike a pimple, the growth doesn’t go away over time. Others can cause sores or ulcers that are resistant to healing.
5. Vision Issues
Melanoma doesn’t just occur on your skin; this deadliest type of cancer can also occur in your eyes. Called ocular melanoma, or OM, melanoma in your eye often causes no symptoms until its later stages, and having routine eye exams is the best way to catch OM as early as possible.
As OM progresses, it can cause symptoms like blurry vision, increasing numbers of floaters (tiny, squiggly lines that move across your field of vision), or an unusual dark or discoloured spot near the iris. It is also important to know that OM becomes more prevalent with age.
6. Scaly Patches
Some types of cancers cause patches of skin to feel dry, rough, or scaly when touched. Sometimes these patches may be discoloured, but not always. If an area of skin stays rough and scaly even after application of moisturising products, it could be skin cancer.
It could also be a lesion called an actinic keratosis (AK), which can be a precursor to squamous cell carcinoma. AKs tend to appear in areas of the body that have been exposed to the sun, including the scalp, and they become more common with age.
Skin cancers can cause itching that doesn’t go away. Often, these areas are misidentified as bug bites — a mistake that can delay proper treatment. If you have a mole or lesion that starts to itch or itches intensely, especially if it has changed in appearance or has begun to ooze, don’t ignore it. It could be a skin cancer.
Know Your Risk for Skin Cancer
Skin cancer can develop in anyone, but some people are more likely to have skin cancer or to have more serious forms of cancer than others. Click here to access our risk assessment model and determine your “risk level”, then visit this page to learn about how MoleMap uses advanced imaging technology to achieve thorough and accurate skin cancer detection. You can also find out how to schedule a MoleMap evaluation to help you, and your skin, stay healthy.