What does skin cancer look like?

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Source: UniversitätsSpital Zürich

Actinic keratosis

  • Actinic keratosis spots appear as small pink or red spots with a rough surface. They may be more easily felt than seen.
  • They are a very common skin complaint and occur more frequently with increasing age.
  • Actinic keratosis usually appear on UV-exposed skin areas such as the face, ears, scalp, neck, décolleté, backs of hands, forearms and lips.
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Source: Skin Cancer Center Charité, Berlin

Basal cell carcinomas

  • Basal cell carcinomas usually appear as small, pink or reddish bumps, nodules, patches, spots or scars.
  • They are most often found in UV-exposed areas of the skin but can also be found on other skin areas such as the trunk of the body.
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Source: Skin Cancer Center Charité, Berlin

Squamous cell carcinomas

  • Squamous cell carcinomas can look similar to basal cell carcinomas, but are usually more scaly and stand out further from the surface of the skin.
  • Squamous cell carcinomas often occur on the head and neck and other UV-exposed areas such as the ears, lips and the back of hands and arms.
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Source: UniversitätsSpital Zürich


  • The appearance of a new mole or a change in an existing mole can happen anywhere on the body, but most often on the back, legs, arms and face. In most cases, melanomas have an irregular shape and have more than one colour. They may also be larger than normal moles and can sometimes be itchy or bleed.
  • The ABCD checklist is a useful way to help you to tell the difference between a normal mole and a melanoma.
    • A stands for asymmetrical - melanomas have two very different halves and are an irregular shape.
    • B stands for (irregular) border - unlike a normal mole, melanomas have a notched or ragged border.
    • C stands for (two or more) colours – melanomas will be a mix of two or more colours.
    • D stands for dynamic - a mole that changes characteristics and size over time is more likely to be a melanoma. D also stands for diameter - unlike most moles, melanomas are larger than 6mm (1/4 inch) in diameter.
  • If you are concerned about one of your moles, see your doctor as soon as possible.