Can basal and squamous cell skin cancers be found early?
Basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers can often be found early, when they are likely to be easier to treat.
You play an important role in finding skin cancer early. Learn the patterns of moles, blemishes, freckles, and other marks on your skin so that you’ll notice any changes.
It’s important to check all over your skin, preferably once a month. Skin self-exams are best done in a well-lit room in front of a full-length mirror. Use a hand-held mirror for areas that are hard to see, such as the backs of your thighs.
All areas should be examined, including your palms and soles, scalp, ears, nails, and your back. (For a more thorough description of a skin self-exam, see Skin Cancer: Prevention and Early Detection and the booklet Why You Should Know About Melanoma.) Friends and family members can also help you with these exams, especially for those hard-to-see areas, such as your scalp and back.
Be sure to show your doctor any areas that concern you and ask your doctor to look at areas that may be hard for you to see.
Any spots on the skin that are new or changing in size, shape, or color should be seen by a doctor promptly. Any unusual sore, lump, blemish, marking, or change in the way an area of the skin looks or feels may be a sign of skin cancer or a warning that it might occur. The area might become red, swollen, scaly, crusty or begin oozing or bleeding. It may feel itchy, tender, or painful.
Basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers can look like a variety of marks on the skin. The key warning signs are a new growth, a spot or bump that’s getting larger over time, or a sore that doesn’t heal within a few weeks. (See Signs and symptoms of basal and squamous cell skin cancer for a more detailed description of what to look for.)
Exam by a health care professional
Some doctors and other health care professionals do skin exams as part of routine health check-ups.
Having regular skin exams is especially important for people who are at high risk of skin cancer, such as people with reduced immunity (for example, those who have had an organ transplant) or people with conditions such as basal cell nevus syndrome (Gorlin syndrome) or xeroderma pigmentosum (XP). Talk to your doctor about how often you should have your skin examined.
Last Medical Review: 04/01/2016
Last Revised: 05/10/2016