Early Signs Of Skin Cancer

Skin cancer is one of the more common types of cancers in the human world, occurring in particular with alarming frequency in the developed world. What makes it ironical is the fact that skin cancer often presents as a precancerous lesions, which are visible to the naked eye, unlike most other precancerous lesions. They give a precious opportunity to the patients as well as those close to him to opt for skin cancer screening.
Early Signs of Skin Cancer
Source - Wikimedia Commons (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AScaly_red_skin_spot.jpg)

Skin Cancer is one of the most prevalent forms of cancer, especially in Western world. Since, the cancerous lesions usually evolve over a period of time and provide certain warning symptoms, knowing more about these early symptoms can often help in fighting the cancer and all its dangers and complications. Awareness may be our key to survival.


Recognizing early signs of skin cancer can make its treatment easier, effective and simpler. Generally, since the skin is an exposed organ that can be viewed, the only hindrance is lack of awareness about these early signs of skin cancer.

Skin Cancer : An Overview


cancers are the most commonly occurring cancers in United States, with over a million persons likely to be diagnosed with it this year. There are many different types of skin cancers. The two most common forms of skin cancers are BASAL CELL CARCINOMA and SQUAMOUS CELL CARCINOMA. Fortunately, they are not as fatal as other cancers, with a mortality rate of only about 0.3%. Compared to them, MALIGNANT MELANOMA that arises from moles are far more dangerous and lead to over 100,000 deaths in United States every year, with a mortality rate of 15-20%.

As in any cancer, survival in skin cancer is directly related with the stage of cancer at the time of its diagnosis. Progression of skin cancer is classified in four stages. In first two stages, the cancer is limited to the skin at the place where it originates, while the third and fourth stages are marked by its spread to other parts. The chances of survival begin to deteriorate once cancer has spread to other parts, hence it is very important to identify and diagnose cancer early, and treat it before it has spread.

Early Identification of Skin Cancer: Lesions & Signs

There are some skin conditions, which are not cancer but which develop into cancer during the course of time. These are called 'precancerous' lesions, and provide an important opportunity to prevent cancer. Early stages of cancer can be diagnosed only if one is aware about the early signs of skin cancer.

I. Precancerous Skin Lesions: Cancer in the Making

These have the potential of developing into or giving rise to cancer. Their identification and treatment can prevent skin cancer and their presence should alert about the possibility of skin cancer and need for frequent screening. These are of following types.

(i) ACTINIC KERATOSIS - It is a small, crusty or scaly bump or horn situated on the skin surface, usually in parts of the body that are frequently exposed to Sun. It is dry, hard and crusty in feeling and often recognized by touch rather than sight. Its color may be that of surrounding skin, dark, pink, red or a mix of all these. There can be many such spots or crusty lesions on the body. Often they do not have any other symptom, but sometimes they may itch or have some tenderness. Rarely, it may bleed. Up to ten percent of these lesions may advance to become cancer and hence their early identification and treatment, by cryosurgery, laser, chemicals or photo-treatment can prevent cancer.


BOWEN's DISEASE - It is a persistent scaly patch, red-brown in color that often resembles eczema or psoriasis. It is considered very close to early squamous cell carcinoma. If untreated, it is likely to spread to the structures beneath the skin.

(iii) ATYPICAL MOLE - Also called DYSPLASTIC NEVUS, these are brown or black moles which are somewhat different from the other harmless benign moles on the body of the same individual. This difference may be a recent change in size, color or appearance. Atypical moles have the potential to develop into melanoma, and hence all such moles should be examined and investigated for cancerous changes.

II. Early Signs of Skin Cancer

In the early stages, skin cancer may appear rather harmless, except for some minor signs that can often be ignored, unles one is aware about them. These consist of changes in the appearance of the skin and should alert about the possibility of cancer.

(i) SHINY LUMP- This small lump can be smooth, shiny, pale, or waxy in appearance.

(ii) RED LUMP - Sometimes it may appear as a red lump that resembles like a small boil, but is devoid of any pain and persists like that for a long time.

(iii) PERSISTENT LUMP WITH SORE - Sometimes the lump on skin ulcerates and may even bleed. It neither heels nor becomes enlarged, and may remain as a small sore for a long period.

(iv) FLAT SCALY PATCH - Sometimes there may be only a small scaly patch with no elevation of surface, with a rusty feeling. Sometimes it may be red, suggesting inflammation, but there would be no pain, and it would persist for a longer period without enlarging.

Investigation & Diagnosis

Examination by a medical expert is essential to decide the further course of action in case of any patch or lump on skin suspected to be precancerous or early cancerous in nature. The diagnosis depends upon the histological findings of the BIOPSY taken from the lump. In some cases like atypical mole, it may be preferable to opt for EXCISION BIOPSY, where the mole itself is removed first and later examined.

Awareness about precancerous and early cancer lesions of skin can help in early identification of these lesions and save many lives from the onslaught of cancer. It is important to spread awareness about these signs so as to enable the victims of skin cancer to identify it early.

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