Skin cancers may appear differently, depending on the type. Melanoma can look like a mole with an irregular shape and color. Non-melanoma skin cancers may appear as discolored patches or lumps on the skin.

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States.

The American Academy of Dermatology says that about 1 in 5 Americans will get the condition at some point.

This article describes what skin cancer and precancer looks like, the warning signs to look out for, and more.

This section looks at some pictures of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers.

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Learn more about skin cancer.

The two main types of skin cancer are melanoma and non-melanoma, and their appearances may differ.


Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer because it can spread to other parts of the body. However, it is less common than non-melanoma.

This type of cancer can appear as a mole with irregular borders that may change shape, size, and color.

Sometimes, the moles bleed or develop ulcerations, and in some cases, new moles grow near an existing one.


Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are two major types of non-melanoma.

Basal cell carcinoma commonly develops in areas of the skin exposed to the sun.

A common symptom of this type of skin cancer is the appearance of raised pink or red bumps with brown, blue, or black areas. They may appear as pale or pearly bumps on lighter skin and can be harder to notice.

Squamous cell carcinoma often grows slowly and may develop on skin sores or scars. They are raised, like a nodule with a crusty and rough surface, and may be brownish or reddish in color.

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Learn more about how skin cancer appears on dark skin.

To check for skin cancers, healthcare professionals may recommend people examine their skin regularly and look out for certain signs.

To do this, a person can use the abbreviation “ABCDE”, which stands for asymmetry, border, color, diameter, and evolving.

Below is a further explanation of this method.

A: Asymmetry

A person should check the similarity between the two halves of a mole, spot, or bump that has grown on the skin.

Skin cancer often causes moles, patches, or bumps where one half does not match the other half.

B: Border

Checking the borders of an abnormal skin growth may also be useful in identifying potential skin cancers.

Moles, bumps, and patches with irregular, ragged, and undefined borders are common signs of skin cancer.

C: Color

Skin cancer spots can appear in a variety of colors in different people.

In white or light-skinned people, they can appear brown, black, red, pink, or blue.

People with dark skin may need to look out for skin patches that are darker than other parts.

In general, colors can vary from one area of the bumps or moles to another. For instance, melanomas can appear in multiple colors, including black, brown, red, blue, white, and shades of tan.

D: Diameter

Skin cancers are usually larger than a quarter of an inch in diameter. However, melanomas are usually smaller.

E: Evolving

This stands for changes in the bumps, patches, or moles. With time, they often undergo changes in size, shape, and color.

Precancer or warning signs of skin cancer include:

Actinic keratosis (solar keratosis)

Actinic keratosis appears as thick, crusty, and scaly areas of bumps or patches on the skin.

Excess exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays is a common cause. While they increase the chances of skin cancer, not all cases of actinic keratosis receive a diagnosis of skin cancer.

Actinic cheilitis

Actinic cheilitis is a form of actinic keratosis that appears on the lips. It is a precancerous lesion, and too much sun exposure can cause it.

It is not cancer at the onset, but it can turn malignant and become a squamous cell cancer.

It may appear as dry, crusty sores or discolored patches on the lips. It mainly occurs in people with fair skin.

Cutaneous horns

A cutaneous horn is a hard, horn-like shape projecting from the skin. It commonly occurs in sun-exposed skin areas.

Most of them are benign and harmless. However, about 1 in 3 of them may become malignant, causing skin cancers.

Here are some common questions people ask about skin cancer.

Does skin cancer itch?

Different types of skin cancer, such as melanoma, may cause itching.

However, not all skin itchiness is a result of cancer.

If people experience itching alongside other symptoms such as abnormal skin growths, pain, bleeding, and crusts from patches, they should contact a doctor.

How do you identify skin cancer?

Skin cancer can cause different signs and symptoms, such as:

  • bumps and lesions with irregular borders
  • speckles, moles, or bumps that change in size, color, and shape
  • sores that do not heal
  • swelling with redness, pain, itchiness, or tenderness that persists

If a person notices similar signs and symptoms, it would be best to speak with a healthcare professional.

They may recommend that the person visit the hospital so doctors can perform a physical examination.

Skin cancers vary in appearance, and this article may not cover every symptom.

A person should speak with a doctor if they notice something unusual. This includes new spots on the skin that do not go away, bleeding spots, or sores that do not heal.