Skin Cancer

11 skin cancer symptoms you should never ignore

What you need to know about the early warning signs of melanoma and other skin cancers

Team Avatar
Team MoleMap Creator
Posted 27/09/19
Melanoma Early Warning Signs 1000

Above: if left untreated melanoma can enter the bloodstream and lymphatic tract

The latest statistics show that over 2,500 New Zealanders are diagnosed with melanoma every year – that’s around 7 people a day(1). What’s more, over 350 New Zealanders die from melanoma each year.(2)

Yet, it doesn’t have to be this way. There are in fact many early warning signs for melanoma and other skin cancers – and if detected early enough, melanoma is almost always treatable. However, if it’s left undetected, it can spread rapidly and become life threatening.

That’s why we recommend checking your skin yourself regularly (or ask your GP to check it for you) at least every three to six months, and having a full body check by skin cancer detection experts every year.

We’ve compiled 11 symptoms of potential skin cancers that you should never ignore. If you’re concerned about any of these symptoms, it’s essential to get them checked by an expert as soon as possible.

Basal Cell Carcinoma Spots That Do Not Heal

Above: Basal cell carcinoma

Basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas

Basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas are the two most common kinds of skin cancer (also known as non-melanoma skin cancer). Typically they’re slow growing and do not always spread to other parts of the body. While they can be unsightly, they’re generally nothing to worry about and can often be removed.

Both basal and squamous cell cancers are found mainly on areas of the skin that are exposed to the sun — the head, face, neck, hands and arms - but remember that skin cancer can occur anywhere.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma Rough Scaly Scabby Itchy Crusted

Above: Squamous cell carcinoma

What to look for - basal and squamous cell carcinoma:

  • Shiny, pearly or waxy bumps on the skin
  • Flat, firm, pale areas
  • Flesh-coloured or brown scar-like lesions
  • Firm, red nodules
  • Flat, rough, scaly, scabby, itchy, tender or crusted lesions
  • Spots that do not heal
Early Melanoma What Does It Look Like

Above: Early melanoma can be very difficult to detect with an untrained eye

Melanoma: not so easy to spot

Melanoma can be very difficult to detect with an untrained eye as it can appear in many different forms. What’s more, it’s fast growing and potentially life-threatening, so it’s essential to have your skin checked regularly – especially if you’re considered moderate to high risk (if you’re not sure, take our quick risk quiz).

What to look for:

  • A new or existing mole or lesion that changes in size, shape or colour
  • An unusually shaped spot that looks different from the other moles or spots on your body (the ‘ugly duckling’)
  • Large brownish spots with darkened speckles
  • Small, dark lesions with irregular borders that may include red, white, blue or blue-black colours
  • Dark lesions on the palms, soles of the feet, fingertips, toes, or in the mouth.

Two good ‘rules of thumb’ to remember when looking for melanoma are the A,B,C,D,E rule and the E,F,G rule. Check them out here.

Superficial Spreading Melanoma

Above: Superficial spreading melanoma - an example of the many forms in which melanoma can show itself

Other less common skin cancers

Other, lesser-known skin cancers include Merkel cell carcinomas, sebaceous gland carcinomas and Kaposi Sarcoma.

Sebaceous gland carcinoma is a rare, highly malignant skin cancer, which most commonly occurs in the eyelid, or other areas of the head and neck. Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare type of skin cancer that usually appears as a flesh-colored or bluish-red nodule, again, often on the face, head or neck. It most often develops in older people or those with long-term sun exposure or a weak immune system.

Kaposi Sarcoma is a rare skin cancer found predominately in men and those with weakened immunity that causes patches of abnormal tissue to grow under the skin, in the lining of the mouth, nose, and throat, in lymph nodes, or in other organs. While all of these are fairly rare, if you have any concerns, see your GP or MoleMap to get it checked straight away.

Your skin is constantly changing

Even if you’ve been checked recently, keep checking it from head to toe - or ask someone to check it for you. A good way to remember is to check your skin at the start of each season (i.e. every 3 months).

If you notice any of the 11 symptoms listed above or if you have a lot of moles, a personal and/or family history of skin cancer, or an outdoors lifestyle, don’t delay. Book a Full Body MoleMap or MoleMap Skin Check as soon as possible.


1. https://www.health.govt.nz/publication/selected-cancers-2015-2016-2017 2. https://www.melanoma.org.nz/be-informed/understanding