Skin Cancer: Basal and Squamous Cell

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Early Detection, Diagnosis, and Staging TOPICS

Signs and symptoms of basal and squamous cell skin cancers

Skin cancers do not often cause bothersome symptoms until they have grown quite large. Then they may itch, bleed, or even hurt. But typically they can be seen or felt long before they reach this point.

Basal cell carcinomas usually develop on areas exposed to the sun, especially the head and neck, but they can occur anywhere on the body. They often appear as flat, firm, pale areas or small, raised, pink or red, translucent, shiny, pearly bumps that may bleed after a minor injury. They may have one or more abnormal blood vessels, a lower area in their center, and blue, brown, or black areas. Large basal cell carcinomas may have oozing or crusted areas.

Squamous cell carcinomas may appear as growing lumps, often with a rough, scaly, or crusted surface. They may also look like flat reddish patches in the skin that grow slowly. They tend to occur on sun-exposed areas of the body such as the face, ear, neck, lip, and back of the hands. Less often, they form in the skin of the genital area. They can also develop in scars or skin sores elsewhere.

Both of these types of skin cancer may develop as a flat area showing only slight changes from normal skin.

Sometimes people go to the doctor because they have a “shaving cut that just won’t heal.” Basal cell cancers, which are fragile, bleed easily and have been unmasked by shaving. A simple rule of thumb is that most shaving cuts heal within a week or so.

Other types of non-melanoma skin cancers are much less common, and may look different. It’s important to have new or changing skin growths, sores that don’t heal, or any other areas that concern you checked by your doctor.


Last Medical Review: 10/21/2013
Last Revised: 02/20/2014