Can You Spot a Skin Problem?

Suspicious moles aren't the only sign of skin cancer. Here's what you need to look out for. 

skin-cancer-spots
Photo by Ben Wiseman

With skin cancer, early detection is everything: The sooner you have a cancerous spot removed, the less likely it is to spread. Monthly self-exams are key. “If you see a new spot, whether it is brown, skin colored, or pearly, or scabbed and bleeding, see your dermatologist,” says Joshua Zeichner, an assistant professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, in New York City. Here’s what to watch for:

Basal cell carcinoma (cancer in the deepest layer of the epidermis) may...

  • Start as a pimple that won’t go away or a cut that doesn’t heal.
  • Bleed or ooze if you scratch or squeeze it.
  • Surface as a patch or an irritated area that sometimes crusts, itches, or hurts.
  • Be a pink growth with a slightly elevated border, sometimes crusting or with an indentation in the center.
  • Look like a scarlike area that is white, yellow, or waxy, often with poorly defined borders.

Squamous cell carcinoma (cancer in the upper layers of the epidermis) may...

  • Look like a thick, scaly, wartlike patch.
  • Bleed if bumped, scratched, or scraped.
  • Appear on your lower lip, especially if you’ve smoked.
  • Look like an elevated, craterlike growth that occasionally bleeds.
  • Look like an open sore that bleeds and crusts, persisting for weeks.