How to spot signs of skin cancer

Learn how to detect the early signs of skin cancer and who is most at risk

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, with at least 100,000 new cases diagnosed each year, according to the British Skin Foundation. There are three types of skin cancer; malignant melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and basal cell carcinoma (BCC), which are both commonly identified as non-melanoma skin cancer. Find out how to spot the signs of possible skin cancer and the recommended treatment below…

What is a melanoma?

Melanoma is the less common type of skin cancer but can be more dangerous, as it may spread to other parts of the body if not treated.

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Who is at risk of developing melanoma?

There are groups of people who may be more at risk of developing melanoma skin cancer, which includes; people with a history of sunburn, people who use sun beds, people with large moles, unusually shaped or large moles, or a lot of freckles. People with light eyes or hair, who sunburn easily or do not tan are also at more risk along with people with a family history of melanoma.

What are the symptoms of melanoma and what does a melanoma look like?

Some people may not have any symptoms with melanoma, but others may experience itching or tingling at an early stage. Some melanomas can be identified by changes to the size, colour or shape of an existing mole, and others begin as a dark area that can look like a new mole. At a later stage a melanoma may feel hard and lumpy, crust up or bleed. There are several types of melanoma, but they typically show one or more of the following features:

  • Asymmetry: The two halves of the area differ in their shape
  • Border: The edges of the area may be irregular or blurred, and sometimes show notches
  • Colour: May be uneven. Different shades of black, brown and pink may be seen
  • Diameter: Most melanomas are at least 6mm in diameter


How is melanoma skin cancer diagnosed and treated?

If you notice any changes to your moles visit your GP, who will refer you to a specialist clinic or hospital if they think you have melanoma. In most cases, a suspicious mole will be removed and examined to see whether it is cancerous. You may also have a test to check if melanoma has spread to the lymph glands. The main treatment for melanoma is surgery, although treatment depends on your circumstances and when the melanoma is diagnosed.

What is non-melanoma skin cancer?

Non-melanoma skin cancer refers to a group of cancers that slowly develop in the upper layers of the skin. More than 100,000 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancers are diagnosed in the UK each year, it is more commonly seen in men than women, and is more common in the elderly.

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What are the symptoms of non-melanoma skin cancer?

The first sign of non-melanoma skin cancer is typically the appearance of a discoloured patch or lump on the skin that continues to persist after a few weeks and slowly progresses over months or years. In the majority of cases cancerous lumps are red and firm, while cancerous patches are usually flat and scaly.

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How is non-melanoma skin cancer diagnosed and treated?

Your GP will examine the skin for any signs of skin cancer, and may refer you to a dermatologist if they're unsure or suspect skin cancer. The specialist will examine your skin and may carry out a biopsy to confirm a diagnosis. Surgery is the main treatment for non-melanoma skin cancer and involves removing the tumour and some of the surrounding skin.

How to spot the signs of skin cancer:

Check your moles regularly and keep a look out for any changes in shape, size or colour as listed above. If you detect any changes or abnormal moles, visit your GP as soon as possible. It is also worth paying a visit to a clinic such as The Mole Clinic ( for a full mole check, where a specialist nurse will examine every single mole from head to toe to identify any possible visually abnormal moles, with results available immediately. This should be something that is carried out annually – particularly for people with lots of moles.

How to prevent skin cancer:

The main way to prevent skin cancer is by avoiding overexposure to UV light and keeping your skin covered or protected in the sun. Always use a high SPF sun cream and seek shade where possible when you're outside.

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