People can experience different symptoms when skin cancer is in its early stages, from sores that won’t heal to discolored moles. Being able to spot them at this point is critical because it’s when skin cancer is the most treatable.
Should we also be including itchiness on this list of potential symptoms? That’s what researchers at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University asked themselves when they began sifting through the medical records of 268 patients who were confirmed to have skin cancer lesions between 2010 and 2011. In 37% of those cases, itchiness accompanied the lesions, the researchers reported in a 2018 study.
Where does this leave us? It’s a tricky spot because itching can be a sign of a host of skin conditions, including something as minor as dry skin. And, in fact, skin cancer can often have no symptoms at all.
This much is clear: If you have a sore that also itches, you should bring it to the attention of a board-certified dermatologist, just as you should with a sore that’s also tender or painful. But itchiness in and of itself shouldn’t be considered a primary symptom of skin cancer.
What else should you be looking for?
What, then, should you be looking out for? The sore that won’t heal is perhaps the most common red flag. It can appear as harmless as a solitary pimple at first. But if it doesn’t clear up after a couple of weeks, you should have it checked out. You should also be keeping an eye out for a pink bump, newly formed pink scaly patches, or a papule with scattered broken blood vessels.
Another helpful reference is the American Academy of Dermatology Association’s ABCDEs of melanoma:
- A is for Asymmetry One half of the spot is unlike the other half.
- B is for Border The spot has an irregular, scalloped, or poorly defined border.
- C is for Color The spot has varying colors from one area to the next, such as shades of tan, brown or black, or areas of white, red, or blue.
- D is for Diameter While melanomas are usually greater than 6 millimeters, or about the size of a pencil eraser, when diagnosed, they can be smaller.
- E is for Evolving The spot looks different from the rest or is changing in size, shape, or color.
Important as it is to conduct weekly, if not more often, self-skin checks, skin cancers can be difficult to distinguish from benign lesions. That’s why it’s important to also schedule a yearly exam with a dermatologist, and to see one immediately if you notice any of the changes or physical symptoms noted above.
If you’re uncertain what you’re seeing, it’s always a good idea to play it safe. Skin cancer is not only the most preventable type of cancer, it’s also the most treatable – when it’s caught early.