Face cancer: what is it, how does it look?

Medically reviewed: 3, February 2024

Read Time:13 Minute

What does cancer look like on the face?

Face cancer is common for the simple reason that here the sun most often hits the surface of the skin, regardless of the season or time of day.

Face Cancer key takeaways

When it comes to facing cancer, the battleground becomes even more poignant when it involves the intricate features of the face. Let’s delve into three key takeaways that shed light on the nature, types, and holistic approach to tackling this challenging adversary.

  1. Facial cancer isn’t a singular entity but a diverse mosaic of malignancies affecting the facial canvas. From skin carcinomas to tumors infiltrating bones and soft tissues, the variety demands a precise diagnosis for tailored treatments. Understanding the intricacies of each type is crucial for effective intervention.
  2. The face hosts a complex terrain, making each type of facial cancer a unique narrative. Melanomas, basal cell carcinomas, and sarcomas – each has its story and demands a specialized approach. Delving into the specifics of these types not only aids in targeted therapies but also underscores the importance of early detection.
  3. Facial cancer isn’t just about removing tumors; it’s a journey of preserving function and restoring aesthetics. Surgeons, oncologists, and reconstruction specialists collaborate to ensure treatments not only eradicate cancer but also enhance the patient’s overall quality of life. From surgical interventions to reconstructive procedures, the holistic approach is key to navigating the challenges of facial cancer.

In addition, soot, urban dirt, and chemicals that are carcinogenic (cancer-causing) properties are often deposited on the face. Significantly accelerates the appearance of skin cancer of the person living in hot countries and regions in the absence of the use of sunscreen and headgear.

In general, cancer of the skin of the face, as well as any other place on the body, is divided into 3 main large groups:

  • basal cell,
  • squamous cell carcinoma,
  • melanoma.

Knowing their symptoms and how they look at the initial stage may help you and your family to avoid serious health problems in the future. There are also more rare types of skin cancer of the face like tubular adenocarcinoma or angiosarcoma.

However, they can be found extremely rarely. Knowing how they look is important for specialist oncologists and dermatologists.

Face Cancer: Symptoms

Face cancer, also known as cutaneous head and neck cancer, presents itself differently based on the specific type of cancer involved. While some individuals might notice subtle changes leading to delayed diagnosis, recognizing early warning signs significantly improves prognosis and reduces morbidity rates associated with invasive procedures required for late-stage discoveries. Therefore, understanding symptoms paves the way for swift action ensuring optimal healthcare outcomes.

Nonmelanoma Skin Cancers

Basal Cell Carcinomas (BCCs)

Basal cell carcinomas usually appear as pearly or waxy bumps often found on the nose, forehead, cheeks, and ears but can occur anywhere on the body. Approximately 80% of BCCs manifest as non-healing open sores, reddish patches, shiny bumps, pink growths, or scar-like regions devoid of evident wounds or healing processes. In rare cases, BCCs metastasize presenting additional complications necessitating aggressive treatments.

Squamous Cell Carcinomas (SCCs)

Squamous cell carcinomas typically materialize as persistent rough, scaly red patches, crusted overgrowths, or raised lumps commonly occurring on the lips, mouth, ears, scalp, and hands but capable of affecting other sites too. Unlike BCCs, approximately 6% of untreated SCCs metastasize showing disconcerting statistics underscoring the importance of timely identification and management strategies.


Melanomas represent less common yet deadlier variants among skin neoplasms accountable for most skin cancer fatalities globally. Its infamy arises primarily from rapid progression combined with high susceptibility towards visceral dissemination culminating in poorer survival prospects compared to prior discussed entities. Melanomas exhibit the “ABCDE Rule”:

  • Asymmetry: Irregular shape where halves differ concerning each other along any axis
  • Border irregularity: Notched, ragged, or blurred demarcations around lesion edges
  • Color variation: Presence of diverse pigment distribution within single lesion i.e., mixtures of tan, brown, black, blue, red, or white shades
  • Diameter: Greater than 6mm diameter though smaller instances merit evaluation given contextual relevancy
  • Evolving: Elevated risk accompanying recent alterations comprising asymmetry change, color shift, dimension modification, inflammation, oozing, bleeding episodes, pruritis, etc.

Facial melanomas warrant particular concern attributable to increased likelihood of misdiagnoses alongside substantial psychological ramifications linked to perceived social implications. Fortunately, diligent surveillance and adherence to clinical guidelines facilitate early recognition maximizing therapeutic advantages.

Additional Alerting Signals

Alarmingly, certain individuals lack classic phenotypic expressions making symptomatic interpretation challenging. For instance, acral lentiginous melanomas predominantly affect palmar/plantar surfaces and subungual locations particularly prevalent amongst darker skinned populations. Hence, physicians must maintain heightened vigilance regarding uncommon variants and nonspecific signals indicative of potential underlying malignancies demanding exhaustive investigation. Other subtle cues entail:

  • Persistent swelling or painlessness sensations around seemingly benign lesions
  • Unexplained hemorrhagic tendencies exhibited by existing nevi
  • Sudden paradigm shifts characterized by elevated sensation anomalies, intensified itchiness, spontaneous bleedings, new observable protuberances amidst established naevi milieu, etc.

Below we will explore symptoms of face cancer in details.

Face cancer with signs of basal cell

Cancer of the skin of the basal cell variety (basalioma in a different way) occurs most often. This is the easiest type. The first phase is marked by a lengthy period of positive progress. In addition, it is almost invisible, without any symptoms. Metastasis practically does not give, if it does not grow to gigantic sizes.

The form of growth plays an important role in the way skin cancer with signs of basal cell looks. They have a few basal cell skin cancer. The main forms of growth are presented below, however, basal cell carcinomas are frequent, which look like mixed variants, showing signs of 2 or 3 forms of growth at once.

Face cancer with nodular basal cell growth

The main form of growth of facial skin cancer is nodular. At the initial stage, this variant looks like a knob with a depression in the center or without it. The color is pink, red, brown or flesh (see photo).

In the center there may be a crust, the edges, usually, slightly rise above the center.

There may be signs such as a turbid luster and dilation of small vessels (telangiectasia), especially in the region of the edges.

Basal cell face cancer with a superficial form of growth

Basal cell skin of the skin of the superficial form of growth is much less common. In this case, at the initial stage, it may look like an almost imperceptible pink spot (in the photo), similar to inflammation or an insect bite. Periodically, this spot almost disappears and reappears.

In certain locations, it is observed that regions devoid of color are created. It is very difficult to detect, at the initial stage, a skin cancer of the face when it has a corporal color, instead of the usual pink one.

Identify that there is this kind, will help such signs as shine, changes in skin density and the ability to form folds, the expansion of blood vessels. Treatment may be accompanied by frequent relapses due to the difficulty of determining the true boundaries of superficially spreading skin cancer of the face.

What does sclerosing basal cell face cancer look like?

Another type of skin cancer of the face is basal cell sclerosing. At the initial stage, it can rarely be identified because of the ability to grow deep into the skin, bodily color and because of what looks like a scar. People can tell that they have hit something or an insect bit them, so education looks like this (in the photo).

Over time, the size of the “scar” gradually increases, it can begin to tingle, itch or hurt (nerves are involved). After washing or temperature changes, the color becomes motley for a short time. The following signs help to detect the presence of skin cancer of the face of such an uneasy variety at the initial stage: hardness, shine, variegation of color with patches of pink, brown, dilation of blood vessels. This skin cancer of the face is less prone to treatment than the other forms of basal cell growth. The reason for this is deep germination and bodily color.

Basal cell carcinoma of the skin of the ulcer growth

The initial stage of ulcer growth appears on the skin of the face with symptoms of a deep scratch or pimple that does not heal. Over time, covered with a crust, it becomes hard to touch, does not hurt. A common symptom is that the cancer of the skin of this species is bleeding at an early stage.

Over time, the symptoms intensify, the ulcer expands in breadth. Typical signs such as shine, elevation of the edges or expansion of the vessels are often absent. At the initial stage of skin cancer of the ulcerative form of growth, it is better to consult a specialist oncologist or dermatologist for timely diagnosis.

Pigment basal cell carcinoma of the face

Pure pigment carcinoma of the face is rare. Usually, there are only signs of separate patches of dark color. When the basalioma is completely dark, it looks like a melanoma.

At the initial stage, only oncologists or dermatologists can recognize basalioma by the characteristics of the symptoms of luster, color, density. With the appeal to the doctor it is better not to pull, with all the tumors that look like melanoma, you can not joke.

Face cancer with squamous symptoms

Cancer of the skin of a squamous variety grows much faster than basal cell. There is often such a disease as actinic keratosis, which serves as the main source of squamous cell skin cancer on the face. It is dangerous to damage the lips, nose, upper and lower eyelids, ear, squamous cell carcinoma.

The appearance in these places can lead to rapid germination of the initial stage into the depth, complication of treatment, the development of metastases in the lymph nodes. There is squamous cell skin cancer of two main forms of growth: keratinizing and non-keratinizing.

At the initial stage, they differ, in many respects, in appearance, growth rate, risk of metastasis. Over time, keratinizing skin cancer can become non-keratinizing. An important sign may be an increase and thickening of the lymph nodes in the neck, in the ear or occiput area, meaning the possible appearance of metastasis in this area.

What does keratinizing squamous cell face cancer look like?

At the initial stage, the skin cancer of this species in many respects has signs of acute actinic keratosis, from which it most often develops. Sometimes, it develops from healthy skin. Most often it looks like a hard almost flat lump with a large number of light or yellowish crusts on the surface (pictured below) that cannot be removed.

When trying to remove crusts it starts to bleed. Does not hurt. Over time, the height and diameter of the bumps increases. As they move from the initial stage, the yellow crusts begin to change to dark red due to bleeding.

Symptoms are progressing, something that looks like a saucer, mushroom or a solid ulcer is formed from the original lump.

It happens that squamous keratinous cancer of the skin of the face appears from keratoacanthoma, skin horns or Bowen’s disease. In this particular scenario, the first phase will be characterized by the manifestation of symptoms associated with the aforementioned diseases. Administering treatment during this initial stage poses minimal challenges or complications.

What does nonthreshold squamous cell face cancer look like?

Squamous cell skin cancer of a non-keratinous form of growth at the initial stage is more difficult to catch than keratinizing. This is due to faster growth, the ability to transform from keratinizing. Often appears in scars, foci of inflammation, after radiation therapy.

Usually, it looks like a bleeding loose, slightly squeezed bump (in the photo), covered with dirty-red crusts. Very easily injured, a bleeding symptom appears.

This skin cancer has a more pronounced ability to form metastases. Therefore, one should pay increased attention to such a sign as an enlarged lymph nodes in the neck. It is necessary to begin treatment at the initial stage, when it gives the best results. Also, there are options for the growth of melanoma, which look like non-squamous squamous cell skin cancer.

Face cancer with signs of melanoma

Melanoma on the face is most noticeable. Due to its dark coloration, it is of greater concern to patients than basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma of the skin. Melanoma of the same size is several times more dangerous for life. Melanoma often metastasizes, even a few years after treatment.

It is very useful to know what she looks like at the initial stage in order to determine it in time and begin treatment. Such a sign as dark (brown or black) color is obtained from the cells present in the composition – modified melanocytes that carry a coloring matter.

However, the dark color may disappear in the very initial stage due to mutations (will turn into non-pigmented).

Which leads to the fact that cancer of the skin of the type of melanoma will begin to look like a squamous or hemangioma. This organism exhibits four different growth forms, two of which have a flat structure. The nodal form of growth is the most dangerous, most quickly metastasizes.

What does face cancer with signs of nodular melanoma look like?

This species likes to develop from moles that have existed for many years, from three other flat growth forms, other dark formations on the skin, including freckles.

Cancer of the skin with signs of nodular melanoma is almost always no longer the initial stage of the disease. This is due to the theme that the stage of melanoma is determined by the depth of germination (if there are no metastases). With this form of growth, the depth of germination is considerable.

Important symptoms of melanoma is a change in color of the mole, shape, clarity of boundaries, symmetry, increase in size over time (see photo). Near the large “mole” may appear smaller foci – satellites. A dangerous sign of skin cancer of the face like nodular melanoma is an increase in regional lymph nodes in the neck and supraclavicular areas.

The most important treatment is surgery, which should be done as soon as possible.

What are the other forms of growth of melanoma?

The two remaining growth forms of skin cancer on the face with signs look like dark spots. Superficial melanoma is a patch of sufficiently bright black, dark brown, white or red, often of mixed color.

Here are also important signs of violation of symmetry, uniformity of color, clarity and evenness of edges, the size of the formation (in the photo).

Superficial melanoma is often still at an early stage, it can grow for several months before signs of nodular melanoma appear in the spot area. Cancer of the skin of the lentigo-melanoma type has approximately the same signs as the surface one (pictured below).

However, they are much weaker. In addition, it may exist for several years in the initial stage, until a nodular melanoma appears in the spot area. The treatment here is also operational.

Face Cancer – Conclusion

In conclusion, face cancer, medically known as cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (cSCC), basal cell carcinoma (BCC), or melanoma, can present significant challenges due to its visible nature and potential impact on vital functions like sight and speech.

Early detection and treatment remain crucial in managing this condition. Regular self-examinations, annual full-body skin checks by dermatologists, and sun safety habits contribute immensely towards prevention and early intervention.

When diagnosed, several effective treatments are available depending on individual circumstances such as tumor stage, location, patient health status, age, and personal preferences.

These may encompass surgical excision, Mohs micrographic surgery, radiation therapy, curettage and electrodesiccation, photodynamic therapy, cryosurgery, targeted therapies, immunotherapies, chemotherapy, or combinations thereof.

Advances in technology continue pushing boundaries in diagnosing and treating face cancers. Telemedicine platforms enable remote assessments improving accessibility and convenience. Artificial intelligence algorithms augment dermatologist evaluations identifying suspicious lesions faster and more accurately than traditional methods alone. Emerging fields like nanotechnology offer promising avenues for developing novel drug delivery systems targeting malignant cells minimizing side effects.

Despite advancements, vigilance remains key. Sun protection should form part of everyone’s daily routine regardless of whether they have experienced skin cancer previously or not.

Utilize broad-spectrum sunscreens with SPF values above 30 liberally applying them at least 15 minutes before outdoor activities and reapplying every two hours. Seek shade whenever possible between peak UV intensity periods (10 AM – 4 PM).

Use protective clothing covering exposed areas when feasible, wear hats shading faces, necks, and ears, and don sunglasses safeguarding eyes against harmful solar radiations.


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