Itchy skin, which doctors call “pruritus,” is not a common symptom of skin cancer. However, some people may experience itching, especially in the later stages.

Doctors can typically diagnose skin cancers before they cause itchiness or pain. In some cases, the inflammation skin cancer causes may lead to itchiness, but it is not a common symptom.

This article discusses whether skin cancer itches, the symptoms, and risk factors. It also looks at what else may cause itchy skin, when to contact a doctor, and skin cancer diagnosis.

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Sometimes, skin cancer can cause a person’s skin to itch.

The most common skin cancers, basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), both cause inflammation. Inflammation of the skin may activate nerves that cause the release of pruritogens and neuropeptides. These substances cause the skin to itch.

In most cases, however, a person will not experience itchiness until their skin cancer has grown large in size, which they would likely feel and see long before itching or pain occurs. Itching is not typically an early or initial symptom of skin cancer.

The most common symptom of skin cancer is a change in the skin. This could be a sore that will not heal, a new growth, or a change in a mole or other pigmented area.

With SCC, a person may notice:

  • wart-like growths
  • discolored, rough, scaly patches
  • open sores that do not heal
  • raised lumps or growths that sometimes have a sunken center

With BCC, a person may notice:

  • open sores that do not heal
  • small, translucent bumps that are red or pink and may have black, blue, or brown areas, depending on skin tone
  • flat, pale, or yellow areas that are firm
  • pink growths with a sunken center that may have blood vessels spreading out from them
  • red, raised areas that might be itchy

See what skin cancer looks like.

Melanoma is less common and may present as changes to a mole. The American Cancer Society recommends that people use the ABCDE rule to check moles for signs of melanoma. This involves looking for the following:

  • Asymmetry: One side of the mole may not match the other.
  • Border: The mole’s edges are ragged, blurred, or irregular.
  • Color: The mole is not uniform in color and may have shades of black, brown, pink, white, red, or blue.
  • Diameter: The mole is larger across than one-quarter inch.
  • Evolving: The mole changes in size, color, or shape.

Skin cancer can appear differently in different people. A person should contact a doctor regarding any changes to their skin they have concerns about.

Learn about the difference between a mole and skin cancer.

Anyone can develop skin cancer, but certain factors can increase a person’s risk. These include certain physical attributes, such as:

  • light skin color
  • green or blue eyes
  • red or blonde hair
  • freckles
  • a large number of moles

Other risk factors include:

  • frequent exposure to UV rays
  • lack of sun protection
  • a family history of skin cancer
  • previous history of skin cancer
  • older age
  • skin that burns easily in the sun

Learn about how people get skin cancer.

There are several potential causes of itchy skin. Some common causes include:

A person can talk with a doctor about screening for skin cancer even without symptoms. This involves visual checks for moles or other pigmented areas to determine whether any are abnormal and might indicate cancer.

It is best to contact a doctor if a person notices any changes to their skin, such as new growths, changing moles, or wounds that do not heal. If a person experiences recurring itching or pain, they should also contact a doctor to rule out skin cancer.

To diagnose skin cancer, a doctor may examine a person’s skin and ask them about any marks or growths. They may ask whether skin areas are painful, itchy, or bleeding and whether they have changed in appearance.

They may also ask about the patient’s personal and family history of skin cancer and discuss lifestyle factors, such as sun protection and exposure.

A doctor may also feel the patient’s lymph nodes to determine whether they are enlarged.

If they suspect skin cancer, a doctor will typically refer the patient to a dermatologist specializing in skin health. A dermatologist may further examine areas of concern and perform a biopsy on abnormal skin areas, which laboratory technicians can examine under a microscope.

Itchy skin is not one of the most common symptoms of skin cancer, and itchy skin alone may not be a reliable indicator of cancer.

However, in some cases, a person may experience itching due to skin cancer. This is because skin cancer can cause inflammation, which can lead to itchiness.

In most cases, a person may experience itching in the later stages of skin cancer, after the cancer is large enough to be felt and seen, and not as an initial or early symptom.

There are many potential causes of itchy skin, such as allergic reactions, a skin condition such as eczema, or a reaction to an irritating substance.

A person should contact a doctor if they experience skin cancer symptoms, such as changes to the skin, a wound that will not heal, a new growth, or changes to a mole. They should also contact a doctor or dermatologist if they experience persistent itching.