When Skin Lesions Have Pain or Itch

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • You know the warning signs of skin cancer. You know to use the ABCDE method to know whether a lesion should be looked at by your dermatologist. But do you also pay attention to whether there is pain and itching? According to recent research, these can help alert you, and your doctor, to the possibility of cancer.

    The recent study, completed at the Department of Dermatology at Temple University School of Medicine and published in JAMA Dermatology, found that a high rate of cancerous lesions were accompanied with pain and itching, which is often overlooked as a potential sign of cancer.

    Non-melanoma lesions were more likely to involve pain and itching than melanoma lesions according to the study. Researchers found that 36.9 percent of skin cancer lesions involved itching and 28.2 percent involved pain. Often, people with skin cancer lesions have more than one lesion. If one or more of these lesions cause pain or itching, this should raise immediate concerns.

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    The study showed:

    • Itch was present in 46.6 percent of squamous cell carcinomas and 31.9 percent of basal cell carcinomas. Itch was only present in 14.8 percent of melanomas
    • Pain was present in 42.5 percent of squamous cell carcinomas and 19.9 percent of basal cell carcinomas. It was present in only 3.7 percent of melanomas
    • Almost one-half of those lesions associated with itch also had pain. About 60 percent of those with pain also experienced itch.
    • Pain was associated with the depth of the lesion, with more pain the deeper the lesion
    • Larger lesions were associated with pain and itch, however lesions that were ulcerated were painful but did not itch.


    Gil Yosipovitch, MD, the lead author in the study believes this is important in the fight against skin cancer because, “The study highlights the importance of a simple bedside evaluation for the presence and intensity of pain or itch as an easily implementable tool for clinicians in evaluating suspicious skin lesions.”


    When completing self-skin checks, it is important to note whether any spots or lesions cause pain or itch. Rather than waiting to see if there are any changes in the color or appearance of these lesions, you should talk to your dermatologist immediately and let him or her know the level of pain and itch you feel. This is important information that can help in identifying skin cancer. 

Published On: October 01, 2014