What are the symptoms of skin cancer?


Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK, however, there is a 98% survival rate if skin cancer is caught early.  How do you know if you have skin cancer? In this blog, the second in our series for Sun Awareness Week, we explore the signs and symptoms of skin cancer.

 What you should look out for, what are the symptoms?

Different types of skin cancer present different skin cancer symptoms but it is important to remember whatever the type of skin cancer, early detection is important.

The most at risk from melanoma are those with fair skin, lots of moles and/or freckles or a family history of skin cancer. However, everyone is at risk, especially if you spend time in the sun and/or use or have used sunbeds.

A melanoma can grow anywhere on the body, so it’s important to check your entire body regularly (once per month) for any changes or abnormalities. Being familiar with your skin, i.e. how it looks and feels, is important in identifying the symptoms of skin cancer early.

Non-melanoma skin cancer signs

Most people commonly think of abnormal moles, but non-melanoma skin cancer can take several forms. Signs to look out for include:

  • A white, red or pink lump that doesn’t disappear after four weeks;
  • Discoloured patches on the skin that don’t heal after four weeks;
  • A scaly or crusty patch of skin that doesn’t heal after four weeks;
  • A sore or scab or ulcer that bleeds, hurts or itches and hasn’t healed after four weeks;
  • An ulcer that doesn’t heal.

You should consult your GP immediately if you have developed any of the signs listed above as they may indicate a melanoma.

Melanoma symptoms and moles

You may have some moles or dark patches on your skin that are flat or slightly raised, usually these will remain harmless all your life. Moles or patches of normal skin that change in size, shape or colour over weeks or months in adult life should be investigated.

There are some clear signs that a mole could be a melanoma. You should get medical advice if you have a mole showing any of the following melanoma symptoms:

  • Changing shape, particularly getting an irregular outline;
  • Changing colour, getting darker, becoming patchy or multi-shaded;
  • An existing mole getting bigger or a new mole growing quickly;
  • If a mole starts to itch or become painful;
  • If a mole is bleeding, becoming crusty and/or looks inflamed.

 REMEMBER the ABCDE Melanoma Rule

The ABCDE Melanoma Rule is a guide to help you look out for any moles on the skin that change in size, shape, colour, become itchy or start bleeding.

  • A = Asymmetry: when half the mole doesn’t match the other.
  • B = Border: when the borders of the mole are irregular, blurred or jagged.
  • C = Colour: when the colour of the mole varies throughout and/or there appears to be no uniform pigmentation.
  • D = Diameter: if the diameter is greater than 6mm (the size of a pencil’s eraser).
  • E = Evolving: changes in the mole over a variable time, weeks, months, years.

Skin images

There are some clear signs that a mole could be a melanoma. You should get medical advice if you have a mole showing any of the symptoms shown in the ABCDE rule.

Read more about the symptoms of skin cancer here or visit our FAQs page for answers to common questions about skin cancer.