Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that speeds up skin cell production, whereas skin cancer occurs when cancerous cells develop in your skin’s tissues. You can recognize the difference between the two by knowing their symptoms and how they look.

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You’re looking at your skin and seeing some spots that don’t look right. What color are they? Are they raised or flat?

Learn about psoriasis and skin cancer symptoms so you can better tell these conditions apart.


Psoriasis is a chronic skin condition that speeds up skin cell production. The overactive cell production commonly causes the skin to develop discolored patches and formations called plaques, often with silvery-white scales.

On paler skin tones, these patches may have a red appearance. On darker tones, they may look purple or brown. These patches and scales may be sore, itchy, and even painful.

Skin cancer

When you have skin cancer, 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 and much more dangerous.

The following images can help you differentiate between psoriasis and skin cancer. However, to be safe, you should see your doctor for a correct diagnosis.

The symptoms of psoriasis include:

  • plaques, commonly covered with silvery-white scales
  • dry, cracked skin that may sometimes bleed
  • sensations of itching, burning, and soreness
  • thick, pitted fingernails

Psoriasis comes in different forms and appearances.

On medium skin tones, it tends to be salmon-colored with silvery-white scales. On darker skin tones, the patches are more likely to appear as violet or dark brown patches.

On light and fair skin tones, symptoms include raised red or pink skin patches occasionally paired with a silvery scale.

Learn more about the appearance of psoriasis on different skin tones.

Skin cancer can be hard to detect and diagnose 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 like unusual spots or bumps, which may appear:

  • raised, pearly, waxy, or shiny
  • firm and taut
  • to have unusual colors like violet, yellow, black, or blue
  • crusty, scaly, or bleeding

Skin cancer can affect anyone but is more likely to develop in some people.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD), the incidence of skin cancer among non-Hispanic white individuals is almost 30 times higher than that among people who list their ethnicity as non-Hispanic Black, Asian, or Pacific Islander.

It also suggests that People of Color are prone to skin cancer in areas that aren’t commonly exposed to the sun, like the palms of the hands, the soles of the feet, the groin, and the inside of the mouth. They also may develop melanoma under their nails.

Dermatologists recommend people look for the following:

  • a dark spot, growth, or patch of skin that’s growing, bleeding or changing in any way
  • a sore that won’t heal or has a hard time healing, especially if it appears in a scar or on skin that had an injury in the past
  • a sore that heals and returns
  • a patch of skin that feels rough and dry
  • a dark line underneath or around a fingernail or toenail

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 following:

  • elbows
  • knees
  • scalp
  • lower back

Each type of psoriasis has a different method of identification, but most go through cycles of activity and inactivity. The skin condition may worsen for a few weeks or months, and the symptoms may fade or disappear completely.

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

Skin cancer typically develops in areas with the most exposure to direct sunlight, including the:

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

It can be difficult to identify because it often looks like a mole or freckle.

According to the AAD, one key to identifying melanoma 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 may also be:

  • black
  • red
  • yellow
  • white
  • navy blue

Often, the color will be uneven within a single spot or have varying colors from one area to the next.


Moles and freckles rarely grow. You should pay attention if you see growth or a spot that’s greater than 6 millimeters (mm) in diameter or about the size of a pencil eraser, as this could indicate melanoma.

Some can be smaller, so it’s a good idea to have a doctor examine any new or changing spot.


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

Unlike spots from psoriasis, skin cancer spots generally won’t disappear and come back later. They’ll remain, most likely growing and changing, until a doctor treats and removes them.

Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease. These kinds of conditions generally have no cure, but treatment can reduce your symptoms.

Studies suggest that doctors may disproportionately undertreat and misdiagnose psoriasis in People of Color because they may fail to recognize the condition as easily as they do on paler skin tones.

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

Topical treatments

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

Light therapy

Light therapy involves exposing the skin to controlled doses of a special UV light in an attempt to reduce symptoms.

You should never attempt light therapy on your own or use tanning beds. You might experience exposure to too much or the wrong light, which can worsen psoriasis.

Systemic medications

Systemic medications are oral or injected medications, like retinoids, biologics, and methotrexate (Reditrex, Trexall, Xatmep).

Doctors often reserve these for people with severe cases of psoriasis. Some of these treatments are only suitable for short-term use.

Skin cancer treatment depends on cancer’s size and severity. Typical treatments include the following:

  • Surgery: One way to prevent skin cancer from spreading or growing is to remove it surgically.
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation uses beams of high-powered energy to destroy cancer cells. Doctors often use it if they can’t remove all of the skin cancer during surgery.
  • Chemotherapy: This IV drug treatment kills cancer cells. You may be able to use lotions and creams with cancer-killing medications if you have cancer only in the top layers of your skin.
  • Photodynamic therapy (PDT): PDT is a combination of medication and laser light that doctors use to destroy cancer cells.
  • Biological therapy: Biological therapy involves medication that boosts your body’s natural ability to fight cancer.

Treatments for skin cancer are most successful when doctors perform them early, particularly before cancer spreads to other organs in a process known as metastasis.

Cancer is more likely to grow and spread to nearby tissues and organs if doctors don’t detect and treat it early.

Anyone can develop psoriasis, but risk factors like the following can increase the chances that you’ll develop a 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 than if they don’t. If both of your parents have it, your risk is even higher.
  • Chronic infections: Long-term infections like HIV or strep throat can weaken your immune system. A compromised immune system raises your risk of developing psoriasis.
  • Obesity: People who are overweight or have obesity also have an increased risk of psoriasis. Psoriasis plaques may develop in skin creases and folds.
  • Stress: Having a stressed immune system may increase your odds of developing psoriasis.
  • Smoking: People who smoke have an increased chance of developing psoriasis and are more likely to develop a severe form of the condition.

The following risk factors increase your likelihood of developing skin cancer:

  • 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 have a link with skin cancer. You may have inherited genes that increase your risk of skin cancer if you have a parent or grandparent who has had skin cancer.
  • Moles: Having more moles than the average person puts you at an increased risk for skin cancer.
  • Age: Males over age 50 are more likely to receive a skin cancer diagnosis, but it can develop at any age. Females are more likely to develop it under age 50.
  • A compromised immune system: If your immune system is affected by chronic infections or stress, your odds of developing skin cancer may be higher.

Contact your doctor if you notice a suspicious area on your skin that you want them to examine. Your doctor’s first step in diagnosing will be conducting a physical examination. They will study the skin area you’re concerned about and ask questions about your health history.

After that, your doctor may want to perform 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 and lets your doctor know the results.

In most cases, doctors can make a diagnosis from a skin biopsy. With those results, you and your doctor can discuss treatment options if necessary.

Skin cancer is caused by cancerous cells developing within the tissues of the skin. Psoriasis, on the other hand, does not involve cancer cells. It’s a condition in which skin cells regenerate too quickly.

While there are similarities between how psoriasis and skin cancer might appear on the skin, there are also differences.

Knowing which body parts are more likely to be affected by each condition and what each might look like on different skin tones can help you tell the difference. However, if you do not already have a diagnosis, it’s a good idea to let a doctor examine any unusual changes to your skin.