What’s causing your skin spots?

You’re looking at your skin and see some spots that don’t look quite right. Are they red and raised, or brown and flat? Learn the symptoms of psoriasis and skin cancer so that you can tell these conditions apart.


Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that speeds up your skin cell production. The overactive cell production causes your skin to develop red patches and formations called plaques, often with silvery white scales. These patches and scales may be sore, itchy, and even painful.

Skin cancer

Skin cancer is a disease in which cancerous cells develop in your skin’s tissues. Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States today.

There are three main types of skin cancer:

BCC and SCC are the two most common types of skin cancer. Melanoma is rarer, but it’s also much more dangerous.

The symptoms of psoriasis include:

Skin cancer can be hard to detect and diagnose. That’s because it often develops as just a simple change on your skin.

You may notice a sore that doesn’t heal. You may also notice symptoms such as unusual spots or bumps, which may appear:

  • raised, pearly, waxy, or shiny
  • firm and taut
  • oddly colored, such as violet, yellow, or blue
  • crusty, scaly, or bleeding

Psoriasis outbreaks can be widespread and cover a large section of your body. They can also be small and cover just a few areas. The body parts most commonly affected by psoriasis include the:

  • elbows
  • knees
  • scalp
  • lower back

Each type of psoriasis is identified differently, but most go through cycles of activity and inactivity. The skin condition may be worse for a few weeks or months, and then the symptoms may fade or disappear completely.

Each individual’s cycle of activity is also different and often unpredictable.

Skin cancer typically develops on areas most exposed to direct sunlight, including the:

  • head
  • face
  • neck
  • chest
  • arms
  • hands

It can be difficult to identify because it often looks like a mole or freckle. The key to identifying skin cancer is in knowing your ABCDEs:


Some skin cancers don’t grow evenly. In other words, one side of the spot won’t match the other.


If the edges of a suspicious spot are ragged, blurred, or irregular, it may be cancerous.


Cancerous spots can be brown, but they may also be black, red, yellow, white, or navy blue. Often, the color will be uneven within a single spot.


Moles and freckles rarely grow. When they do, they grow so slowly that the change is almost impossible to detect. Skin cancer, however, can grow rapidly.


You may be able to detect changes in a cancerous spot over the course of a few weeks or months.

Unlike spots caused by psoriasis, skin cancer spots won’t disappear and come back later. They’ll remain, and mostly likely grow and change, until they’re removed and treated.

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease. That means it can’t be cured. It can, however, be treated to reduce symptoms.

Psoriasis treatments fall into three basic categories. Your doctor may recommend only one of these types of treatments, or they may suggest a combination. The type of treatment you use largely depends on the severity of the psoriasis.

Topical treatments

Topical treatments are prescription creams, lotions, and solutions directly applied to your skin. They may help ease the symptoms of psoriasis.

Light therapy

Light therapy is a type of therapy where your skin is exposed to controlled doses of natural sunlight or a special ultraviolet (UV) light in an attempt to reduce symptoms.

You should never attempt light therapy on your own or use tanning beds. You might get too much or the wrong kind of light, which can make your condition worse.

Systemic medications

Systemic medications are oral or injected medications, such as retinoids, biologics, and methotrexate (Trexall).

These are often reserved for people with severe cases of psoriasis. Many of these treatments can only be used for short periods of time.

Treatment for skin cancer depends on the size and severity of the skin cancer. Typical treatments include the following:

  • Surgery. The best way to prevent the skin cancer from spreading or growing is to surgically remove it.
  • Radiation therapy. Radiation involves beams of high-powered energy that can destroy cancer cells. It’s often used if your doctor can’t remove all of the skin cancer during surgery.
  • Chemotherapy. This intravenous (IV) drug treatment kills cancer cells. Some lotions and creams with cancer-killing medications may be used if you have skin cancer that’s confined to the top layers of your skin.
  • Photodynamic therapy (PDT). PDT is a combination of medication and laser light that’s used to destroy cancer cells.
  • Biologic therapy. Biologic therapy involves medication that boosts your body’s natural ability to fight cancer.

Treatments for skin cancer are most successful when the cancer is found early, particularly before it spreads to other organs in a process known as metastasis.

The cancer is more likely to grow and spread to nearby tissues and organs if it’s not detected and treated early.

Anyone can develop psoriasis. Certain risk factors increase the chances that you’ll develop the skin condition.

Family history

Psoriasis has a strong genetic connection. If one of your parents has psoriasis, the odds that you’ll develop it are much greater. If both of your parents have it, your risk is even higher.

Chronic infections

Long-term infections, such as HIV or persistent strep throat, can weaken your immune system. A weakened immune system raises your risk of developing psoriasis.


People who are overweight or obese have an increased risk of psoriasis. Psoriasis plaques may develop in skin creases and folds.


Stress can impact your immune system. A stressed immune system may increase your odds for psoriasis.


You have an increased risk of developing psoriasis if you smoke. People who smoke are also more likely to develop a severe form of the disease.

Anyone can develop skin cancer. Certain risk factors increase your odds.

Long-term sun exposure

A history of exposure to the sun increases your risk. Your chances of skin cancer are even higher if you have a history of sunburns.

Complexion, hair color, and eye color

People with light-colored skin, red or blonde hair, or blue or green eyes have a higher risk of skin cancer.

Family history

Certain genes are linked to skin cancer. You may have inherited genes that increase your risk of skin cancer if you have a parent or grandparent who’s had skin cancer.


Having more moles than the average person puts you at an increased risk for skin cancer.


People over the age of 50 are more likely to receive a skin cancer diagnosis, but skin cancer can develop at any age.

A weakened immune system

If your immune system is affected by chronic infections or stress, your odds of developing skin cancer may be higher.

See your doctor if you notice a suspicious area on your skin and you want them to examine it. Your doctor’s first step in making a diagnosis is to conduct a physical examination. They study the area of skin you’re concerned about and ask you questions about your health history.

After that, your doctor may want to conduct a skin biopsy. During a skin biopsy, your doctor removes a section of the skin, which they send to a lab. A lab professional then examines the cells of that section of skin and lets your doctor know their results.

In most cases, a diagnosis can be made from a skin biopsy. With those results, you and your doctor can discuss the diagnosis and your treatment options.