More than Moles - 5 Signs of Skin Cancer You Might Not Know

Kachiu Lee, M.D.

You might not feel like you need sun protection in these cold, dark days of winter. But those rays are still damaging, and sunscreen should continue to be used as part of your daily routine. This is especially true for your face and hands, as those tend to still get sun even when it is cold.

Your daily routine should also include checking for any signs of cancer. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States and one in five Americans will develop a skin cancer in their lifetime.

That is why looking at your own skin is so critical. It sounds easy to do, but many people do not or cannot do a thorough skin check – especially on our backs, scalp, and between the toes.

Remember, suspicious moles are not the only signs of skin cancer. What else should you look for?

1.    A flesh-colored or pearly bump that never goes away.

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common type of skin cancer, and it can often be mistaken for a skin tag or skin-colored bump. BCCs occur most often on sun-exposed areas, such as the head, neck, arms, and legs. 

2.     A red firm bump or a sore that never heals. 

Do you have a red bump that you think is from “bumping” your leg on the coffee table? Or do you have a nonhealing sore on your scalp from accidentally hitting your head on a low ceiling? If it has been there for more than a few weeks, then there is a chance that it could be squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). These cancers often present as a red, firm bump or as a non-healing sore. If that new spot will not go away, then it is time to see a doctor.

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3.     A scaly patch on your lower lip.

Do you have a rough spot that always seems dry despite how much moisturizer and lip balm you are using? Chances are, you have sun damage on your lower lip from years of sun exposure. If the scaly patch is always present, visit your dermatologist to be sure that it really is just dryness, and not a squamous cell carcinoma.

4.     An itchy or painful bump.

You may not be able to see this one, but any spot that is persistently itchy and never goes away could be an early skin cancer. Sometimes, you will be able to feel the symptoms before you actually see the changes on the skin. Make sure to monitor the spot for any changes, and if in doubt, see your doctor.

5.     A black or brown streak in the nail. 

Yes, skin cancer can grow underneath your nails! Usually, they present as a discolored dark brown or black streak in the nail. They may be present for years before they start causing symptoms of pain or discomfort. If you notice a new dark brown or black streak, make an appointment with your doctor.

Remember to use your sunscreen, and regularly check your skin for anything that may have changed. Even in the winter, it’s important to wear sunscreen that is at least SPF 30 or above, and one that offers protection against both UVA and UVB rays.

If you see something that appears unusual, contact your dermatologist as soon as you can.

Learn more about dermatology at Lifespan 

To learn more about the Lifespan Physician Group Dermatology Practice in East Providence or to schedule an appointment, please call 401-606-2380 or schedule an appointment online. Most new patients can have appointments scheduled within one month, with many patients being seen within ten business days.