Actinic keratoses (also known as solar keratoses)
Skin cancers may be preceded by a pre-cancerous condition known as actinic keratoses. These are usually pink or red spots, with a rough surface, which appear on skin that is exposed to the sun. Areas on the head, face, backs of the hands and forearms are most often affected as a result. Actinic keratoses may be easier to feel (their roughness) than they are to see. Early treatment can prevent them changing into skin cancer.
Basal cell carcinoma (rodent ulcer)
Most basal cell carcinomas are painless. People often first become aware of them as a scab that bleeds occasionally and does not heal completely. Some basal cell carcinomas are very superficial and look like a scaly flat red mark: others show a white pearly rim surrounding a central crater. If left for years, the latter type can erode the skin, eventually causing an ulcer – hence the name “rodent ulcer”. Other basal cell carcinomas are quite lumpy, with one or more shiny nodules crossed by small but easily seen blood vessels.
Squamous cell carcinoma
A squamous cell carcinoma usually appears as a scaly or crusty area of skin, with a red, inflamed base. It may look like an irritated wart, or break down to form a bleeding ulcer. Most small squamous cell carcinomas are not painful. They occur most often on the head, neck, ears, lips, back of the hands and forearms. This is the most frequent type of skin cancer in organ transplant patients.
Melanomas are much rarer, but are the most serious type of skin cancer. They are usually an irregular brown or black spot, which may start in a pre-existing mole or appear on previously normal skin. Any change in a mole, or any new mole occurring for the first time after the age of thirty, should be shown to your doctor.
Remember, if you see any change in your skin - whether an ulcer or a spot – it is important to tell your doctor or nurse.