What Does Skin Cancer
Look Like?


Skin cancer is the uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells.

It occurs when un-repaired DNA damage to skin cells (most often caused by ultraviolet radiation from sunshine or tanning beds) triggers mutations, or genetic defects, that lead the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumours.



 What does skin cancer look like?

  • Crusty sores that won’t heal

  • Small red, pale or pearly lumps

  • Any new spots, freckles or moles that change in colour, size, shape

  • Thickness over a period of weeks to months

  • Any spots that are dark brown to black, red or blue-black in colour

woman with melanoma

 How to look?

Remember to check, your face, neck and ears, scalp, front and back of torso, buttocks, arms, legs, hands, palms, feet, soles, and between fingers and toes and finger and toenails. It may help to use a hand held mirror

You may also like to ask your partner or a person you trust to help you look in areas such as your back and scalp which you often cannot see


How often should you look?

You should check your own skin every three months

You should have your skin checked with your GP or at our skin cancer clinics once every year or as advised by your Doctor.


What’s Your Risk
Of Skin Cancer?


Anyone can get melanoma but these factors increase your risk.

  • YOU have previously had a skin cancer and/or have a family history of skin cancer

  • YOU have a large number of moles on their skin

  • YOU have a skin type that is sensitive to ultraviolet (UV) radiation and burns easily

  • YOU have a history of severe/blistering sunburns

  • YOU spend lots of time outdoors, unprotected, during their lifetime

  • YOU actively tan or use solariums or sunlamps work outdoors

  • YOU are male and over 55 years. Check your whole body from head to toe, front, back and sides. Check your head and neck and don’t forget your scalp, ears, face and lips. Don’t forget the soles of your feet and under your nails.

Family skin cancer history factors include:

  • A personal history of melanoma at an early age; the average age to be diagnosed with melanoma is 33 years

  • A personal history of more than one melanoma

  • Many moles on your skin; more than 10 on the arms and 200 on the body

  • Many unusual moles

  • A blood relative diagnosed with melanoma at an early age

  • A blood relative diagnosed with more than one melanoma

  • A blood relative diagnosed with melanoma of the eye.

Dermatologist examines a birthmark of patient, close up

A change in your moles - what you need to watch out for.

Size – A mole may expand sideways or become raised. This may be the first sign of a highly dangerous form of melanoma (a nodular melanoma).

  • Shape – Change in shape/ irregular border Change in shape is usually from an oval or round mole to an irregular (coastline) shape. Most harmless moles have smooth regular borders. Melanomas often have irregular borders.

  • Colour – Change in colour watch for moles that change colour. Melanomas often develop a blue or black colour. Sometimes many different colours such as red, pink, purple or grey may develop and some areas may become lighter.

The more moles you have on your skin, the higher the risk of the most dangerous type of skin cancer – melanoma. Moles are overgrowths of melanocytes (a type of skin cell).

We are not normally born with moles, but most of us will develop some on our skin by 15 years of age. The number of moles we develop is determined by genetic (inherited) factors and exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

Australians tend to have more moles than people living in other countries, possibly because of their childhood sun exposure

Check your skin-type risk

  • Type I – Often burns, rarely tans. Tends to have freckles, red or fair hair, blue or green eyes. Or if you have a family member that has had skin cancer previously.

  • Type II – Usually burns, sometimes tans. Tends to have light hair, blue or brown eyes.

  • Type III – Sometimes burns, usually tans. Tends to have brown hair and eyes.

  • Type IV – Rarely burns, often tans. Tends to have dark brown eyes and hair.

  • Type V – Dark brown skin. Rarely burns, tans profusely.

  • Type VI – Deeply pigmented, dark brown to black skin. Never burns.

Yes, the risk of skin cancer decreases as you move down the list as the larger amount of melanin in very dark skin does provide some protection. However, even if you have dark skin, it is still important to exercise caution when contemplating spending time in the sun. Did you know that Bob Marley died from skin cancer?


Other Types Of
Skin Damage

If you don’t protect your eyes with good quality sun glasses or goggles if you’re skiing, high UV levels can cause eye damage regardless of skin type. And those same high levels of UV exposure can also have damaging effects on the immune system too, so it’s important to take the appropriate measures to protect yourself from the sun, regardless of your skin type.


Is That Spot A Melanoma? 


Skin cancer generally stands out as being quite different to surrounding skin.

If a spot strikes you as being a bit odd, take it seriously. Skin cancer mostly appears as a new and unusual looking spot. It may also appear as an existing spot that has changed in colour, size or shape.

Below are some different types of skin cancers



Can grow very quickly. It can become life-threatening in as little as six weeks and, if untreated, it can spread to other parts of the body. It can appear on skin not normally exposed to the sun. It is usually flat with an uneven smudgy outline.

It may be blotchy and more than one colour – brown, black, blue, red or grey. However, some melanomas are pink or skin coloured.

Use ABCDEFG to look for melanoma where:

  • A = asymmetry, look for spots that are asymmetrical not round

  • B = border, look for spots with uneven borders

  • C = colour, look for spots with an unusual or uneven colour

  • D = diameter, look for spots that are larger than 7 mm

  • E = elevated

  • F = firm

  • G = growing

Nodular Melanoma

A highly dangerous form of melanoma that looks different from common melanomas – they are raised from the start and even in colour (often red or pink and some are brown or black). This type of melanoma grows quickly and can be life threatening if not detected and removed quickly.

Squamous cell carcinoma

This type of skin cancer is not as dangerous as melanoma but may spread to other parts of the body if not treated and can be fatal. It grows over some months and appears on skin most often exposed to the sun. It can be a thickened, red, scaly spot that may bleed easily, crust or ulcerate.

Basal cell carcinoma

This is the most common but least dangerous form of skin cancer. It grows slowly, usually on the head, neck and upper torso. It may appear as a lump or dry, scaly area. It maybe red, pale or pearly in colour. As it grows, it may ulcerate or appear like a sore that fails to completely heal or one that does heal but then breaks down again.


Skin Cancer Prevention


There are several steps you can take to ensure that your skin stays healthy and free of cancer:

Slip on sun protective clothing

Choose clothing that covers as much skin as possible, and is made from close weave materials, like cotton, polyster and linen. If you’re going swimming, try wearing swimsuits made of lycra, which stays sun protective even when wet.

Slop on SPF 50+ sunscreen

Apply your sunscreen at least 20 minutes before you go outside, and make sure to reapply every two hours. It’s better if you use sunscreen that is broad spectrum and water-resistant.

Slap on a hat

 Keep up with summer trends and wear a hat! A broad-brimmed or bucket style hat will do well to protect you from harmful UV rays.

Slide on some sunglasses

The perfect complement to your fashionable hat is a good pair of sunglasses – they’ll help protect your eyes, too. Wear them whenever you’re outside, since sunglasses and a broad brimmed hat can reduce UV radiation exposure to the eyes by up to 98%.

Seek shade

Stay in the shade as much as possible. Use trees or built shade structures, or even make your own with a big beach umbrella!

Be UV alert

Be extra cautious about being out in the middle of the day – the UV rays are strongest then, and you’re most at risk of being exposed to harmful radiation.


Northern Beaches
(02) 9999 0336

 Sydney City
(02) 9223 1608