Symptoms and diagnosis of skin cancer

Symptoms

Skin cancers do not all look the same. They can appear as any of the following:

  • A small lump
  • Flat, red spot
  • Firm, red lump
  • A lump or spot that is tender to touch
  • An ulcer that will not heal
  • A lump with a scaly or horny top
  • Rough, scaly patches

Signs of melanoma

  • A mole that has changed colour, size or shape
  • A mole that is bleeding, oozing or crusting

See your family doctor if you are worried about any of these symptoms. He or she can examine your skin carefully.

Screening

Testing for skin cancer when you you have no signs or symptoms is called screening. There is no national screening programme for skin cancer. The best way to screen yourself is by checking your skin from head to toe every month. Make sure to see your doctor every year for a skin exam.

Diagnosis

First visit your family doctor (GP) who will examine your skin carefully. He or she can then decide to refer you to a skin specialist (dermatologist) for more tests and treatment at a hospital. Some GPs may take a sample of the affected skin and have it tested. However, many doctors prefer that a skin specialist removes any suspected skin cancer.

Biopsy

Your GP or specialist will remove (excise) some of the affected skin under local anaesthetic. This is called an excision biopsy. Some skin around the affected area may be removed as well. This may be done to make sure no cancer cells are left behind. Sometimes this excision biopsy is the only treatment you may need. The sample is then sent to the laboratory to be examined under a microscope.

Other tests

Your doctor will do a physical exam to make sure no more treatment is needed. He or she will look for any other skin changes such as lumps or growths. Your lymph glands will be checked to see if any are enlarged. You may need a chest X-ray to check your general health. Most people with skin cancer do not need further tests.

If your doctor suspects the cancer has begun to spread, a CT scan or MRI scan may be done.

Learn more about the above tests

Call our National Cancer Helpline

Freephone 1800 200 700 to talk to a specialist cancer nurse
It's open Monday-Thursday from 9am to 7pm and Friday from 9am to 5pm