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Mohs Fellowship Trained Surgeon

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How to Tell the Difference Between a Pimple and Skin Cancer

What is the difference between a pimple and skin cancer

Pimples are very common, and in most cases, nothing comes of them. However, if you have one or more pimples that look or act different from the norm, you may start to wonder if you actually have skin cancer. To help you decide whether to reach for the acne medication or call your doctor for a biopsy, we’re offering some tips for how to tell if you have a pimple or skin cancer.

How to Tell the Difference Between a Pimple and Skin Cancer

Some skin cancers can produce what appear to be pimples. These may even pop. This is especially true of basal cell carcinoma, which is often mistaken for benign blemishes. So, if you are concerned about something on your skin, here are a few things to keep in mind.

  • Cancer blemishes never truly heal. They may seem to heal for a while but end up returning.
  • Some cancers will be the color of your skin. Pimples, on the other hand, tend to be red and inflamed.
  • Cancer doesn’t always look like a pimple. It can look like scars, dry patches on the skin, moles, and other such things.
  • A skin cancer blemish continues growing. While pimples can become large, that’s typically because they’re swelling from accumulated pus and other fluid. With cancer, the growth is from the proliferation of cells, so it is less likely to look “swollen” than simply larger than before.

Can Skin Cancer Look Like a Mole?

Yes, it definitely can look like a mole. This is especially true of melanoma. Be on the lookout for new moles, moles with uneven edges, and moles that change their shapes over the course of a few weeks or months.

Melanoma can also be itchy or sore, bleed, get crusty, and grow over a short period of time. Not all melanomas appear large – if spotted soon enough, they can be quite small. Therefore, size itself is not an indicator of cancer. Instead, a key sign to look for is whether or not it grows or otherwise changes shape.

What to Look For

Keep an eye out for any skin growth that doesn’t seem normal, regardless of the specifics of the abnormality. Also, if you have sores or pimples that either don’t heal, or only heal for brief periods of time, consider these to be highly suspicious.

If you’ve had a growth that was previously cleared as benign, and it starts changing, consider this to be a red flag that it has become cancerous. Sometimes, a growth will be benign for years, only to turn malignant for unknown reasons.

Be very aware of your skin and what is normal for you. Check yourself for irregularity often. This way, if something changes, you’ll be more likely to spot the difference.

Each Type of Skin Cancer Looks a Little Different

It is important to keep in mind that every type of skin cancer has a different appearance. Therefore, even if you’re sure you don’t have one particular kind of cancer, you shouldn’t dismiss the possibility of it being another kind.

What to Do if You Notice Skin Irregularities

If you have something on your skin that concerns you, it is essential to get it checked by a medical professional right away. If the size, color, texture or shape of something on your skin changes, please alert your physician immediately. Early detection offers the best chance for a cure. 

Please request an appointment with us to get any suspicious growths checked to see whether it’s a pimple or skin cancer. We’ll examine your skin and advise you on your condition.


Dr. Leslie Storey | Valley Skin Institute

Dr. Leslie Storey is a board-certified physician specializing in medical and surgical dermatology. Her mission is to find and remove skin cancer, which she does more than 2,000 times a year. An expert in Mohs Surgery, Dr. Storey’s patients often comment that they are amazed at how minimal their scar is after they have healed from surgery. If you notice anything suspicious on your skin, request an appointment with Dr. Storey to have it checked out.

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