How to Identify Types of Skin Cancer

By April Sanders

Skin cancer comes in three forms: Basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. While basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer, melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer because it is the most likely to spread to the lymph nodes and other organs. Only a doctor can tell you for sure which type of cancer you might have, but there are some differences between the types of skin cancer that you can observe on your own body. Read on to find out what those differences are.

Learn the signs of all types of skin cancer. You can remember them by remembering the letters, ABCDE. The letter "A" stands for a mole that has asymmetrical shape. Most moles are symmetrical, but most skin cancers are not. The letter "B" stands for borders. If the borders of the mole or spot are raised, irregular or bumpy, this is another sign that this could be skin cancer.

Look for color variations on the mole. This is what the letter "C" stands for. Skin cancers are usually mottled, or more than one color. They can appear as a dark blue color, red, black, brown, or even white. In addition, check to see if the diameter, or "D", of the mole or mark is greater than that of a standard pencil eraser. This is another sign that the area could be cancerous. Finally, see if it is evolving. This is what the letter "E" stands for. Evolving means that the mole is changing or is showing symptoms such as itching, bleeding, growth or pain.

Determine the type of skin cancer. If you suspect a mark on your skin might be cancer, your next step is to see a doctor for a diagnoses. The only way to be sure of what type of skin cancer it is is to do a biopsy. A biopsy is when a small part of the affected tissue is removed and examined under a microscope. Before this procedure, however, you can make a guess as to what type of cancer you might have by looking at some variables.

Look at the color and location of the cancer. Is the spot on an area of the skin that is exposed to the sun, such as the nose? Basal cell cancers are most common on the nose, face, or other exposed skin areas. The usual appearance is that of a raised bump, pale pink and smooth. Sometimes it also looks like a flat white scar.

Check the back of your hands, ears, and the lower lip. Squamous cell carcinoma appears frequently in these areas. It is also common on skin that has had a severe burn. This type of cancer frequently appears as a hard red bump. It can also be scaly, or bleed.

Check your moles. Have any of them changed in size, color, or otherwise? Melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, usually begins in an existing mole. It can then spread rapidly to other parts of the body. Moles that may be becoming cancerous will appear raised from the skin, have variations in color, irregular borders, and may be itchy or painful. Such moles should be checked by a doctor as soon as possible. Use a camera to record changes in your moles if you are unsure.


Sunburns and exposure to sun can greatly increase your chance of getting skin cancer, so be sure to protect your skin with clothing and sunscreen.


See a doctor as soon as possible if you suspect you may have skin cancer. Melanoma is treatable if caught early, but can be deadly if allowed to spread.

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