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Last medically reviewed on January 25, 2022
Is This Spot or Rash Skin Cancer?
Rashes on the skin, such as bumps or redness, typically result from contact with an irritant. But sometimes, they can be a sign of cancer. If a mole itches, bleeds, or changes shape, it may be a sign that you should get it checked out by a doctor.
Skin rashes are a common condition. They usually stem from something harmless, like a reaction to heat, medication, a plant like poison ivy, or a new detergent you’ve touched.
Rashes can show up on any part of your body, from your head to your feet. They can even hide in the cracks and crevices of your skin. Sometimes they itch, crust, or bleed.
Occasionally, bumps or redness on your skin can be a sign of cancer.
For example, if you notice an itchy mole on your chest that seems to be changing shape, there’s a chance you’re dealing with skin cancer.
Because cancer can be very serious — even life threatening — it’s important to know the difference between a rash caused by irritation and one caused by skin cancer.
This is why it’s important to talk with a dermatologist about any rash or growth that’s new, changing, or not going away.
While skin cancers are often asymptomatic, meaning they don’t show symptoms, they can be itchy.
For instance, basal cell skin cancer can appear as a raised reddish patch that itches, and melanoma can take the form of itchy dark spots or moles.
Talk with your doctor about any itchy, crusty, scabbed, or bleeding sore that’s not healing.
The most common symptom of skin cancer is a change in your skin, such as a:
- new growth
- sore that’s not healing
- mole that’s changing color or shape
Melanoma is a less common but more dangerous form of skin cancer because it can spread easily if not treated. One of the best ways to get a handle on its symptoms is to think of “A-B-C-D-E.”
- “A” for asymmetrical. Do you have a mole or spot that seems to be shaped oddly or have two sides that look different?
- “B” for border. Is the border of your mole or spot jagged?
- “C” for color. Is the color of your mole or spot uneven or different?
- “D” for diameter. Is your mole or spot bigger than the size of a pencil eraser?
- “E” for evolving. Have you noticed your mole or spot changing in an obvious way?
If any of these apply to a mark on your skin, it’s important to talk with a dermatologist as soon as possible.
Mycosis fungoides is the most common form of cutaneous T cell lymphoma, a type of blood cancer that involves infection-fighting white blood cells called T cells.
When these cells turn cancerous, they form a red, scaly rash on the skin. The rash can change over time, and it may:
Mycosis fungoides often shows up as an eczema-like rash in areas that typically get little sun exposure.
Actinic keratoses are crusty or scaly pink, red, or discolored bumps that appear on areas of sun-exposed skin, including the:
- backs of your arms and hands
If you have several of them together, they can resemble a rash.
They’re caused by damage from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation. If you don’t get actinic keratosis treated, it can turn into skin cancer. Treatments include:
- cryosurgery (freezing them off)
- laser surgery
- scraping off the bumps
Actinic cheilitis looks like scaly bumps and sores on your lower lip. Your lip might also be swollen and red.
It’s caused by long-term sun exposure, which is why it often affects people with lighter skin who live in sunny climates or individuals who spend a lot of time working outside.
Actinic cheilitis can turn into squamous cell cancer if you don’t have the bumps removed.
Just as the name suggests, cutaneous horns are hard growths on the skin that look like an animal’s horns. They’re made from keratin, the protein that forms skin, hair, and nails.
The horns are concerning because about half the time they grow out of precancerous or cancerous skin sores. Larger, painful horns are more likely to be cancerous.
You’ll usually just have one cutaneous horn, but they can sometimes grow in clusters.
Moles, also called nevi, are flat or raised areas of skin. They’re usually brown or black, but they can also be:
Moles are individual growths, but most adults have between 10 and 40 of them, and they can appear close together on the skin.
Moles are often benign, but in some cases, melanoma — the most serious type of skin cancer — can begin within a mole.
These brown, white, or black bumpy growths form on parts of your body, like your:
They can be tiny or can measure more than an inch across. Although seborrheic keratosis sometimes looks like skin cancer, it’s actually harmless.
However, because these growths can get irritated when they rub against your clothes or jewelry, you may choose to have them removed.
Basal cell carcinoma
Basal cell carcinoma is a type of skin cancer that appears as red, pink, or shiny growths on the skin, but it can also appear as dark or gray-colored lesions, especially on individuals with darker skin tones.
Like other skin cancers, it’s caused by prolonged exposure to the sun.
While basal cell carcinoma rarely spreads, it can leave permanent scars on your skin if you don’t treat it.
Merkel cell carcinoma
This rare skin cancer looks like a reddish, purple, or blue-colored bump that grows quickly. It can look like:
- a cyst
- an insect bite
- a sore
- a pimple
You’ll often see it on your:
It’s more common in people with lighter skin who have had lots of sun exposure, although the exact cause is still not known.
Basal cell nevus syndrome
This rare inherited condition, which is also known as Gorlin syndrome, increases your risk of developing basal cell cancer as well as other types of tumors.
The disease can cause clusters of basal cell carcinoma, especially on areas like your:
A rash is less likely to be cancer if you’ve taken these steps to protect your skin:
- Try to limit your time in direct sunlight during the hours when the sun’s UV rays are strongest, which are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
- If you do go outside, apply a broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) SPF 30 or higher sunscreen to all exposed areas. Reapply after you swim or sweat, or every 2 hours.
- In addition to sunscreen, you can wear sun-protective clothing. You can also wear a broad-brimmed hat and UV-protective sunglasses.
- Try not to use tanning beds.
Check your own skin for any new or changing spots once a month. You may also contact your dermatologist for an annual whole-body check.
In addition to yearly appointments with your dermatologist, it’s a good idea to regularly check your skin for any moles or red patches that either seem to appear or change over time.
According to the American Cancer Society , you should consider making an appointment with your dermatologist if you notice a:
- new, expanding bump or growth on your skin
- sore that continues to bleed or doesn’t heal for several weeks
- rough, red, or scaly patch that crusts over or bleeds
- wart-like growth
- mole that seems to be changing color or shape
- mole with irregular borders
When it comes to rashes and spots of all kinds, talk with your doctor if you are unsure.
If you don’t already have a dermatologist, your general doctor may refer you to one if they believe you have a suspicious patch or mole on your skin.
During a dermatologist appointment, you will most likely be asked about:
- your symptoms
- whether you remember when the mark first appeared
- whether you have a personal history, or any family history, of skin cancer.
After your dermatologist examines the area in question, they may decide to do a biopsy.
There are a few ways to go about performing a biopsy when it comes to the possibility of skin cancer, but in most cases, your dermatologist will use a local anesthetic to numb the area. Then they’ll take a tiny sample of that skin to look at under a microscope.
In very rare cases, your doctor may decide to order an MRI or CT scan of the area if they believe the cancer may have spread below the skin.
How can you tell if a rash is serious?
In many cases, a rash will go away on its own. However, if you notice any of the following symptoms along with a new rash, you should contact your doctor immediately:
- The rash is all over your body.
- You have a fever.
- The rash appears suddenly and spreads quickly.
- The rash becomes red, itches, and blisters.
- The rash is painful.
- The rash looks infected.
What does a cancerous rash look like?
Cancerous rashes, marks, and moles can vary in their appearance. If you notice a red, scaly patch on your skin that itches, cracks, or bleeds — and doesn’t seem to be healing — there is a chance it could be cancerous.
Talking with your doctor or a dermatologist is the best way to figure out if you’re dealing with a less serious rash or something that will need to be biopsied.
As a general reminder, if you notice a mark on your skin that’s changing shape or color, it’s important to get a medical opinion as soon as possible.
Are skin cancers itchy?
While many skin cancers may not have any symptoms, some can be itchy.
Basal cell skin cancer can appear as an itchy, reddish patch. Melanoma can also occasionally appear as dark spots or moles that itch. Mycosis fungoides, which is a form of T cell lymphoma, also presents as red, itchy spots on the skin.
Skin rashes are common, and many of them clear up on their own or with over-the-counter medication. However, a very small percentage of skin rashes may be a sign of skin cancer.
If you notice a suspicious mark on your skin that seems to be changing shape or color, you should talk with your doctor or dermatologist as soon as you can. With their help, you will be able to quickly get to the bottom of your issue and receive treatment.
Last medically reviewed on January 25, 2022
How we reviewed this article:
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- Actinic keratosis risk factors. (2019).
- Actinic keratosis treatment. (2019).
- Basal cell carcinoma overview. (2021).
- Duffill M. (2015). Actinic cheilitis.
- Gorlin syndrome. (2019).
- How to do a skin self-exam. (2019).
- Melanoma warning signs. (2021).
- Moles: Overview. (n.d.).
- Mycosis fungoides. (2021).
- Mycosis fungoides (including Sézary syndrome) treatment (PDQ) — patient version. (2021).
- Rash 101 in adults: When to seek medical treatment. (n.d.).
- Seborrheic keratoses: Diagnosis and treatment. (n.d.).
aad.org/public/diseases/bumps-and-growths/seborrheic-keratoses – treatment
- Seborrheic keratoses: Overview. (n.d.).
- Signs and symptoms of basal and squamous cell skin cancers. (2019).
- Skin cancer prevention. (n.d.).
- Skin cancer types: Cutaneous T-cell lymphoma overview. (n.d.).
- Skin cancer types: Merkel cell carcinoma signs & symptoms. (n.d.).
- Tian T. (2013). Cutaneous horn.
- Ultraviolet (UV) radiation and sun exposure. (n.d.).
- What are the symptoms of skin cancer? (2021).
- What is melanoma skin cancer? (2019).
Our experts continually monitor the health and wellness space, and we update our articles when new information becomes available.
Liver Disease Rash: A Symptom and a Sign
What is a liver disease rash?
Dermatologists find that our skin often shows what is happening inside of the body. A liver disease rash could indicate a further health problem. An example of where this effects your liver would be jaundice, where the skin and the whites of the eyes become yellow. Although yellowing skin is not the only skin change that indicates liver disease, darkening of the skin and bronzing of the skin can point to liver disease or failure and rashes can point to a number of liver health problems.
What’s in this article
- A liver disease rash and hepatitis C
- When does liver disease rash occur?
- Signs & symptoms
A liver disease rash and hepatitis C
Skin rashes may be a sign of hepatitis C, and should not be ignored. Rashes that appear on your skin as a result of hepatitis c show that your body is busy trying to fight the infection on its own. This rash is called urticaria and is the most common rash for those suffering from acute hepatitis c virus. This is a short-term infection, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, acute HCV typically lasts for six months or less. Urticaria can also cause the skin to swell, rashes on your face and often comes in rounds that can last for several hours. Urticaria can also develop as a result of certain allergic reactions.
You may develop a rash from the vaccine that treats hepatitis c. It is important to know where the most common places are for these rashes to develop, for urticaria it is typically itchy and widespread across the body. Rashes from the treatment of hepatitis c appear at points of contact from treatments, on the chest, arms, and torso.
Signs & symptoms
If a rash is due to liver damage skin symptoms may include:
- severe itching in the same spot
- development of “spider veins” on any part of the body
- brown patches on the skin
- patches of extremely dry skin
Additional symptoms may include stomach swelling and bleeding that does not stop.
Diagnosis can be difficult as rashes can be linked to many different issues. It is not recommended to self-diagnose a skin rash, so always consult your doctor if you have any kind of rash appearing on your body. Your doctor can identify whether an underlying condition is at fault and can help you find the right treatment for you.
Cold packs and hydrocortisone cream can provide relief from itchiness and discomfort as the rash heals. Oral antihistamines may also be helpful if topical therapies do not relieve your symptoms. In a case study featured in the Gastroenterology and Hepatology Journal it is clear that discontinuing ribavirin (treatment for heaptitis c) for several days was enough to recover from the rash. If your rash continues and worsens your doctor may think about changing treatments.
You can decrease the intensity of your rash yourself by limiting your sun exposure, bathing in cool water, using unscented products on your skin and applying lotion to the skin after you wash.
Find out more about the basics of liver health with Dr. Tarek Hassanein, M.D.