Recognizing early stage skin cancer can drastically improve the outlook. Lesions can vary in appearance but common features include irregular skin changes and wounds that do not heal.
In early stage skin cancer, the cancer is small and has not yet spread beyond the top layer of the skin. Early stage skin cancer is also known as stage 0 or stage 1, depending on the type of skin cancer.
Early stage skin cancer is highly curable with appropriate treatment, but prompt detection and treatment are key to successful outcomes.
This article explains how people can recognize early stage skin cancer.
Early stage cancer can appear differently on different skin tones. Here are some examples of what it can look like.
Early skin cancer can appear in different ways, depending on the type.
Here are some
- a sore that does not heal
- a spot or bump that becomes scaly, crusty, or bleeds
- a mole or birthmark that changes in size, color, or shape
- a new growth on the skin that looks pearly, translucent, or shiny
red or scaly may bea red or scaly patch of skin that does not heal
- a scaly skin patch or wart-like growth
If a person has concerns about skin changes, a dermatologist can assess these changes. The outlook is better for skin cancer when there is early detection and treatment, and it is essential to seek help as soon as changes occur.
The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) has an online directory to help people find a dermatologist.
Doctors classify skin cancer according to its types and spread.
BCC and SCC
These are the most common types of skin cancer, which doctors stage as
- Stage 0: In the precancerous stage, abnormal cells are present but have not yet developed into cancer. In BCC, there
may bea red or scaly patch of skin that does not heal. In SCC, there may be a scaly skin patch or wart-like growth.
- Stage 1: In stage 1, cancer has formed, and the tumor is 2 centimeters (cm) or smaller.
- Stage 2: In stage 2, the tumor measures 2–4 cm.
- Stage 3: The tumor is either larger than 4 cm or cancer has grown into tissues under the skin and possibly the bone and nearby lymph nodes.
- Stage 4: Cancer has spread throughout the body.
Melanoma also has stages 0–4:
- Stage 0: Also known as melanoma in situ, abnormal cells are present but have not spread beyond the top layer of skin. A mole may have changed in appearance, or there may be a new mole.
- Stage 1: Cancer has spread into the dermis, the layer under the skin.
- Stage 2: Cancer is still in the skin tissues but deeper than before and more likely to spread.
- Stage 3: Cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes or lymph vessels.
- Stage 4: Cancer has spread to distant organs, such as the lungs or brain.
|Mole or birthmark
|often symmetrical, where one side matches the other
|two sides are not symmetrical
|usually smooth and even
|blurred or irregular border
|contains different shades of brown, black, red, purple, white, or blue
|usually less than 6 mm
|moles or birthmarks larger than
|tends to remain the same
|changes in size, shape, texture, or color
Read on to learn the answers to some commonly asked questions about early stage skin cancer.
What does stage 1 skin cancer look like?
Stage 1 skin cancer can vary in appearance depending on the type of skin cancer. Generally, it appears as a
How can you tell early skin cancer?
Early skin cancer can be difficult to distinguish from benign skin growths or typical moles, but there are some signs to watch for.
For melanoma, a person can use the
Is early stage skin cancer curable?
With early detection and prompt treatment, the outlook for skin cancer is
Skin cancer is highly treatable with early detection. Early stage skin cancer is the initial phase when the cancer is small and has not yet spread beyond the top layer of the skin.
Regular skin checks, self-examinations, and sun protective measures can help reduce the risk of developing skin cancer. The ABCDE method can help people recognize the early signs of melanoma skin cancer.