How to Detect Early Signs of Skin Cancer

Summer is around the corner, and those of us in the Pacific Northwest are looking to get out and enjoy some sunshine. While we all love getting our daily dose of sun, and much-needed vitamin D, one thing that should be on everyone’s minds is protecting our skin. Exposure to harmful UV rays is one of the main causes of skin cancer. If you want to learn more about skin health, and how to look for early signs of skin cancer, read on for more details from Portland primary care physicians.

What is Skin Cancer?

It may surprise you to learn that skin cancer is the most common form of cancer—but what is it exactly? Like other types of cancer, skin cancer is a disease that causes cells to divide and grow abnormally. However, in skin cancer, the growth occurs in the epidermis, which is our skin’s outermost layer. Most skin cancers are linked to UV exposure, either through the naturally occurring UV rays or other sources like UV tanning beds.

If your skin is unprotected from harmful UV, DNA damage can occur in your skin cells, potentially causing abnormal skin growth and the forming of cancerous tumors. Preventive measures, including applying sunscreen, avoiding peak sun times, and wearing hats, can go a long way to reduce your chances of UV damage. If you notice some alarming changes in your skin, the good news is, if skin cancer is caught early, there are plenty of effective treatment options.

What Do Early Stages of Skin Cancer Look Like?

Since most skin cancers occur on the outer layer of skin, which is visible to the naked eye, there’s a higher chance of catching the disease early on. Early detection means early treatment and a better chance of recovery. How can you tell if you might be developing skin cancer? Here are four major types of skin cancer, and what to look out for:

  • Basal Cell Carcinoma: often appears as an almost translucent or white-ish bump on sun-exposed areas of the skin. However, it can also occur in other areas and present as a scaly patch or brown, blue, or white lesion.
  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma: can show up as wart-like bumps, scaly red patches, open sores with crusty edges or oozing that don’t seem to heal, and lumps with a depressed center.
  • Melanoma: typically appears as a dark, mole-like growth. They can be found on any area of the body, and are among the more aggressive skin cancer forms, so early detection is vital.
  • Merkel Cell Carcinoma: is an extremely rare, but aggressive, form of skin cancer that emerges as a red-raised bump with a mole-like shape.

Skin Cancer Early Detection Tips

For the early detection of skin cancer, it’s critical to keep in mind that signs and symptoms might not be universal. Someone with basal cell carcinoma might find a scaly patch in the groin area, while another person might have a tiny pearl-like bump on their arm. So, the first rule of thumb is always to take a change in your skin texture or color seriously. If you notice any alarming bumps, lesions, lumps, or other epidermal anomalies, contact your health care provider at your Portland primary care clinic.


Since melanomas look similar to benign moles and freckles, doing a regular self-evaluation can be an essential tool in the early direction. Our Portland primary care clinic recommends using the ABCDE checklist for distinguishing potential melanomas:

  • Asymmetry: One side of the mole doesn’t match the other side.
  • Border: The shape is not uniform, and the edges are notched or misshapen.
  • Color: There is detectable color variation throughout, often with hues of browns, reds, or blacks.
  • Diameter: The size is more than one-quarter inch across.
  • Evolving: Any change in size, shape, or elevation.

If you notice any of the above signs, schedule an appointment with your physician as soon as possible. Like other forms of skin cancer, melanomas are treatable when diagnosed early.

Visit Our Portland Primary Care Clinic for All Your Health Needs

Don’t wait to have any questions about skin cancer addressed. At NWPC, we are here to help you take charge of your health by offering a wealth of essential medical services, including skin cancer screenings. Our professional practitioners accept patients at all our Portland locations. Contact us today to make an appointment at one of our Portland, Oregon clinics or schedule a virtual visit.