Skin cancer on the neck may be basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), or melanoma. Melanoma typically looks like a dark-colored asymmetric mole, BCC looks like a shiny or pearly bump, and SCC is a wart-like growth.

Most skin cancers on the neck are non-melanoma skin cancers. Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) are the most frequent types of non-melanoma skin cancers (NMSCs).

NMSCs usually form in the basal and squamous cells, in the outermost layer of skin.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, BCC on the neck often looks like a shiny, round, raised growth, while SCC often looks like a warty growth but can appear as a firm, red bump, scaly patch, or a sore that heals and then reopens.

Melanoma is a rare, but more aggressive, type of skin cancer that can also develop on the neck. Melanomas often look like asymmetric dark-colored growths. They can be flesh-colored, pink, or red but are usually darker in color.

This article looks at how to identify skin cancer on the neck and reduce the risk of skin cancer.

The following images show some ways that skin cancer can appear on the neck.

There are many types of skin cancer, but cancer that appears on a person’s neck is more likely to be a BCC or SCC.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), BCC is the most common form of skin cancer. In the United States, doctors diagnosed an estimated 3.6 million cases of BCC per year, compared with 1.8 million cases of SCC.

In one analysis of data for people with skin cancer, 40.2% of BCCs and 33.4% of SCCs were on a person’s head or neck upon diagnosis.

The appearance of BCCs and SCCs on the neck can vary, but there are some common features.

BCC usually looks like:

  • a non-healing wound
  • a sore that oozes, weeps, crusts over, or bleeds
  • a shiny, pearly bump
  • a persistent sore with a sunken center

SCC may appear as:

  • an open sore that does not heal
  • a scaly, crusted patch that may bleed and will not resolve
  • a crusty, wart-like growth

Nodular melanoma is a type of melanoma that involves an overgrowth of pigment cells. It accounts for 15–30% of all melanomas and often appears on the neck and head.

Nodular melanoma lesions can be:

  • a raised, round lump
  • black or red
  • bleeding or oozing

What does skin cancer look like on darker skin tones?

The most common symptom of skin cancer is a non-healing wound.

The Skin Cancer Foundation also encourages people to look out for:

  • any new moles or growths
  • moles or growths that have grown or changed significantly in any way
  • lesions that change, itch, spontaneously bleed, or do not heal

For melanoma, specifically, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends following the A-B-C-D-E method to look for warning signs:

  • A — Asymmetrical: Does the mole or spot have an irregular shape?
  • B — Border: Is it irregular or jagged?
  • C — Color: Is the color even or are there multiple colors?
  • D — Diameter: Is it larger than a pea, about 6 millimeters?
  • E — Evolving: Has it changed over the last few weeks or months?

Enlarged lymph nodes can also signal skin cancer. Many lymph nodes are in the neck, groin, and underarms.

When melanoma begins on the neck, cancer cells can spread through the blood and lymph nodes, causing swelling.

Discolored skin patches: Is it cancer?

People should check their skin regularly for new or evolving lesions and speak with a doctor if they notice anything unusual.

With an early diagnosis, the outlook for a person with skin cancer is excellent.

The 5-year relative survival rate for someone with localized melanoma that has not spread beyond the original site is over 99%. In other words, a person has at least a 99% chance of surviving another 5 years after diagnosis compared with someone who does not have melanoma.

However, this rate falls to 32% if melanoma spreads to distant parts of the body.

For this reason, it is essential to seek an early diagnosis for any type of skin cancer.

Can apps help detect skin cancer early?

A doctor will likely:

  • examine an individual’s skin
  • ask about the individual’s and their family’s medical histories
  • ask the person when the mark first appeared, if it has changed, and when
  • ask if the lesion has bled or is itchy or painful
  • note other risk factors, such as sun exposure

The doctor may recommend a skin biopsy and remove the lesion at the same time.

Treatment options will depend on the type and stage of skin cancer, among other factors.

Non-melanoma skin cancer

For NMSCs, doctors may use various approaches, such as:

  • local excision, which involves removing the lesion and skin around it
  • curettage and electrodesiccation, where a surgeon scrapes away the surface layer and then applies heat using an electric current to destroy any remaining cells
  • Mohs micrographic surgery (MMS), a minor surgery that removes high risk or invasive skin cancer lesions on the head and neck, where there is not enough skin to remove around the lesion

A doctor will send the tissue to a laboratory for analysis to confirm if cancer is present and, if so, which type.

They may also prescribe topical immunotherapy, such as imiquimod (Aldara) for BSC or topical chemotherapy.

Can chemotherapy cream treat skin cancer?


For melanoma, a doctor will usually recommend a wide, local excision, but if cancer has spread to other areas or is aggressive they may also suggest one or more of the following:

  • MMS
  • surgery to remove the lymph nodes
  • immunotherapy
  • chemotherapy
  • targeted therapy
  • radiation therapy

There is a link between many skin cancers and repeated sun exposure. Following sun safety guidance can help lower the risk of developing skin cancer on the neck.

People can help protect their skin by:

  • avoiding prolonged exposure when UV rays are at their strongest, from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
  • seeking shade
  • wearing protective clothing outdoors, such as a wide-brimmed hat or scarf
  • using a broad-spectrum sunscreen daily with an SPF of 30 or over
  • avoiding tanning booths and sunlamps

Can Black people get skin cancer?

Here are answers to frequently asked questions about skin cancer on the neck:

Is skin cancer common on the neck?

Skin cancer on the neck is most likely to be basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma, which accounts for 80% and 20%, respectively, of all skin cancers. Both types usually develop on sun-exposed areas, such as the neck, head, and face.

Nodular melanoma is a type of melanoma skin cancer. It usually occurs on the head and neck and accounts for 15–30% of all melanoma diagnoses. It tends to grow downward into the skin rather than spreading out.

What does melanoma look like on the neck?

Melanoma usually starts as a mole but can appear in various shapes, sizes, and colors. Nodular melanoma commonly grows on the neck and can appear as a bump called a polypoid. The bump is usually black, but can also look blue, gray, white, brownish, or red.

Skin cancer on the neck is common and has an excellent outcome with early diagnosis and treatment.

To reduce the risk of skin cancer, people should avoid or limit direct sun exposure to the neck and check their skin regularly for changes. If changes occur, the person should see a doctor.