Is it a mole or is it skin cancer?

Almost all of us have moles, freckles or other skin blemishes, so how do you know whether something on your skin is a harmless spot or a potentially deadly melanoma?

Check this guide to the three most common skin cancers so you are better prepared to spot the signs of skin cancer. 

Remember, if you notice any of these signs, or anything unusual on your skin that you're just not sure about, see your GP.

The three most common types of skin cancer

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)

Basal cell carcinoma This is the most common, least dangerous form of skin cancer. BCCs grow slowly, usually on the head, neck and upper torso.

They may appear as:

  • a lump or dry, scaly area
  • be red, pale or pearly in colour
  • ulcerate as they grow
  • or appear as a sore that fails to heal completely or heals but then breaks down again.

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)

Squamous cell carcinoma These are less common than BCC but may spread to other parts of the body if untreated. SCCs grow over some months and appear on skin most often exposed to the sun.

They may be:

  • a thickened, red, scaly spot
  • bleed easily
  • crust
  • and ulcerate.


Melanoma Melanomas can be life-threatening in as little as six weeks if left untreated and can spread to other parts of the body. Melanoma can also appear on skin not typically exposed to the sun, such as your inner thigh or underarm.

Use the ABCD rule as a guide while examining your skin:

A = Asymmetry: look for spots that are asymmetrical (one half of the spot doesn’t match the other).

B = Border: look for spots with uneven borders. Melanoma is often flat with an uneven, smudgy outline.

C = Colour: look for spots with an unusual or uneven colour. May be blotchy and more than one colour – brown, black, blue, grey or red.

D = Diameter: look for spots that are larger than 7mm.

Nodular melanoma is a fast growing and aggressive form of melanoma that doesn’t follow the ABCD criteria above. It is often red, pink, brown or black, raised and feels firm to touch. Nodular melanoma grows quickly, so see your GP immediately if you think you have one.

Checking your skin

More than 95 per cent of skin cancers can be successfully treated if they’re found early, so it’s important to get to know your skin and what is normal for you to help you notice changes quickly.

Look for changes in shape, colour, size of existing spots or the development of a new spot – if you notice anything unusual, see your doctor straight away.

People who are at high-risk of developing skin cancer should develop a surveillance plan with their GP to monitor changes in their skin, which can include regular skin checks and photography.

Find out more about checking for skin cancer.

Choosing a sunscreen: all your questions answered Get our new app to #seeUV around you Don't fall for these 7 sun protection myths Check out this summer's SunSmart campaign

Email Print Facebook Twitter AddThis