Skin cancer symptoms: The early warning sign on your face

Skin cancer is caused by ultraviolet light (UV) from the sun that damages DNA in skin cells. Don’t delay treatment – spot the early warning signs now.

Actinic keratosis is considered the earliest stage of any skin cancer.

The NHS describes the condition as “rough patches of skin”, and it can appear on the face after years of sun exposure.


The rough patches can either be red, pink, brown or skin-coloured.


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It can feel rough or scaly – like sandpaper – and can be flat or stick out from the skin.


The size of actinic keratosis can range from a few millimetres to a few centimetres across.


It can feel sore or itchy.

Dermatologist Dr Doris Day states that most people who develop this condition are fair-skinned, and it’s usually a precursor to squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).

The Skin Cancer Foundation adds that SCC is characterised by abnormal, accelerated growth of squamous cells.

Squamous cells are flat cells, located near the surface of the skin that continuously shed as new skin cells form.

DNA damage from UV light triggers abnormal growth in squamous cells.

At times, rough patches of skin may crust over or bleed.

If allowed to keep on growing, the lesions can become disfiguring, dangerous and deadly.

This is because the cancer can become invasive, growing into deeper layers of skin and spreading to other body parts.

Non-melanoma skin cancer, such as SCC, doesn’t only appear on the face – it can appear anywhere on the skin that is commonly exposed to sunlight.

Surgery is usually the go-to treatment for this type of skin cancer.


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Using a local anaesthetic, the SCC is removed alongside a margin of normal skin around it.

The skin is then closed with stitches – or a skin graft – depending on its size.

An alternative treatment plan is to undergo radiotherapy. This involves shining a beam of X-rays onto the skin.

Usually, several sessions of radiotherapy are needed to remove the lesion.

The British Skin Foundation confirm that the majority of SCCs are low-risk skin cancers and can be cured.

If you’re worried about lesions on your body that you believe need further investigation, your GP is the first person you need to contact.

Should they too think their needs to be further investigation, they’ll refer you to a dermatologist.

From there, a biopsy – when a small piece of the abnormal skin is removed by a dermatologist and sent off for examination – will happen.

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