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Symptoms of nonmelanoma skin cancer can be difficult to pinpoint. The initial warning signs are often painless and involve subtle visual changes to the skin. Nonmelanoma skin cancer lesions typically develop on parts of the body that are frequently exposed to the sun, such as the face, neck, shoulders and hands.

Early signs of nonmelanoma skin cancer

The earliest sign of nonmelanoma skin cancer is usually the development of a flat, scaly patch or a firm red lump that persists for at least a few weeks without healing. Physicians generally recommend consulting with a professional if a skin patch or lump doesn’t show signs of improvement after four weeks.

Additional early signs of nonmelanoma skin cancer will depend on the exact type of malignancy present. For example, while basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are both types of nonmelanoma skin cancer, they produce different symptoms.

Red bump, basal cell carcinoma

Basal cell carcinoma symptoms

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer. The initial warning signs of basal cell carcinoma include:

  • Small, tender, pearl-shaped bumps that have visible blood vessels
  • Red, tender, flat spots that bleed easily
  • Small, fleshy bumps with a depressed center
  • Smooth, shiny bumps with an appearance similar to a mole
  • Firm, scar-like patches of skin, especially on the face
  • Abnormal moles

If there are lesions, they may itch, bleed and scab. It’s common for this cycle to repeat itself over and over, without the lesion actually healing.

Squamous cell carcinoma symptoms

Small growth, squamous cell carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma is another common type of nonmelanoma skin cancer. The initial warning signs of squamous cell carcinoma include:

  • Firm yet tender-to-the-touch bumps
  • External ulcers
  • Scaly, patchy skin with an affected area that gets bigger over time
  • Small, raised growths that look like warts
  • Thickened skin and/or mouth sores near the lower lip

What does skin cancer feel like?

While the initial warning signs of nonmelanoma skin cancer are often painless, if the skin cancer develops alongside a nerve, you may feel the following:

  • Pain
  • Tingling
  • Itchiness
  • Tenderness
  • Swelling
  • Numbness

Many people report feeling as if they had ants crawling under their skin in the area in question.

Contact us today to schedule an appointment. Call us at 1-888-663-3488 or request an appointment online.

When to see a skin cancer specialist

Although many people develop small, noncancerous skin abnormalities that heal quickly on their own, skin cancer symptoms usually persist for weeks. If you’re experiencing any skin cancer symptoms, make an appointment with a dermatologist or oncologist who specializes in skin cancer as soon as possible. The earlier that the symptoms are reported, the better the outcome tends to be.

To be on the safe side, you should reach out to a skin cancer specialist whenever you notice a new and unexplained change in your skin’s appearance, even if you’re not experiencing any skin cancer symptoms. In particular, you should watch out for:

  • Large moles
  • Asymmetrical moles
  • Moles that significantly change in appearance over time
  • Firm, rounded bumps with visible blood vessels
  • Flat or raised spots that itch or bleed easily
  • Small, pearl-like bumps with indentations in the center

Moffitt Cancer Center's approach to skin cancer

If you have been diagnosed with skin cancer and are looking for a second opinion or are ready to get started with a treatment plan, you can turn to Moffitt. We’re the only National Cancer Center Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center based in Florida, and the multispecialty team in our Cutaneous Oncology Program includes experts in dermatology, dermatopathology, radiation oncology, radiology and surgical oncology.

Request an appointment with the skin cancer specialists at Moffitt Cancer Center by calling 1-888-663-3488 or filling out a new patient registration form. No referral is necessary. Rest assured that when you contact Moffitt, you’re a top priority of a cancer center that delivers nationally ranked care in new and transformative ways.


Cancer.Net: Skin Cancer (Non-Melanoma) – Symptoms and Signs