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Bugs, Sun and Mole pattern

Bug Bite, or Skin Cancer?

I’ve had skin cancer for so long that it’s become a way of life for me. Every day I catch myself doing a skin check for anything new or suspicious on my skin. Even after 23+ years with skin cancer, sometimes I don’t know right away if a new place is cancerous. Could it be a basal cell carcinoma? Maybe a squamous cell? Or is it a bug bite? I don’t want to call my dermatologist each time I find something on my skin, but I also don’t want to delay treatment if something is skin cancer. What to do, then?

Watchful waiting

I’ve found that what works best with me is a short wait-and-see approach. If I see a new area that wasn’t there the day before, I try to not immediately stress about it. I’ve realized that 95% of the time, the area goes away within a few days to a week, which makes me believe it was either a bug bite or a reaction to something. I keep an eye on it each day (okay, multiple times each day), watching for changes.

When it doesn’t go away right away, though, I’m more inclined to want to call my dermatologist, but I still don’t call her after just one week. I’ve had a few suspicious areas that have taken a couple of weeks to disappear, never to be seen again. Once it’s been hanging around a few weeks, it’s probably time to make the call.

Here’s how you can tell the difference

How do you tell the difference between skin cancer and a bug bite?  It’s not always easy. A painful patch on your skin could be a sign of skin cancer, but it could also be an insect bite.  If it’s an itchy spot, it could be a sign of skin cancer, but it could also be an insect bite or an allergic reaction to something.

The Skin Cancer Foundation provides a list of five warning signs of skin cancer1:

  • A scar-like area that is white, yellow or waxy, with the skin appearing shiny and taut.  This may indicate the presence of an invasive basal cell carcinoma.
  • An open sore; this area may bleed or ooze, scab over, then continue the process and never fully heal. This is a very common sign of a basal cell carcinoma.
  • A reddish patch or irritated area. These areas are frequently found on the face, chest, shoulders, arms or legs. They may itch or hurt, or there may be no discomfort.
  • A shiny bump or nodule; this can be pearly or clear in color, but can also be pink, red, or white, or even tan, black or brown in dark-haired people and can be confused with a mole.
  • A pink growth with an elevated border and crusted indentation in the middle, which slowly grows larger. Blood vessels may appear on the surface as the area grows.

Don’t be afraid to call the doctor!

If you have any areas that look out of the ordinary and won’t go away, it’s time to call your dermatologist to have them checked. If they don’t turn out to be skin cancer, you’ll have the peace of mind that all is well, and if they are skin cancer, the earlier you get treatment the better!

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.



  • rolanstein
    3 months ago

    Good article, Judy. Can especially relate re bug bites. I had an intermittently itchy and occasionally weepy spot in a hard-to-see place high on one arm, towards the underside where the sun rarely hits. I’d never had skin cancer at this point, but was very conscious of it and well-educated as to the different types. However, because I couldn’t see this spot, it was a case of out of sight, out of mind.

    I dismissed it as an infected bug bite for months, before finally asking my GP to have a look. He was suspicious and took a biopsy. He asked the nurse who was assisting whether she ws surprised that he took so much flesh. She admitted she was, and he explained that he thought he was dealing with a BCC, and that it was in an area that has plenty of loose flesh and is not generally visible – so thought he might as well excise it as if it had been diagnosed as a BCC.

    The biopsy came back confirming BCC, the margins of which were clear. So, I needed no more treatment. Great call of the doctor’s, then, but a negligent effort of mine waiting so long to have the area checked out.

    As you say, early detection is key. That BCC was the first of several that I had biopsied and excised over the next 18 months. 3 have required surgery in hospital, and in one case a long rehab. Once these things start, you’re on the treadmill. Be vigilant!

  • Judy Cloud moderator author
    3 months ago

    @rolanstein You make an excellent point, that is also an excellent reminder – out of sight should NOT be out of mind. Thank goodness you had it checked and your doctor biopsied it. Unfortunately skin cancer isn’t always a ‘one and done’. I’m so glad you continue to be vigilant! Thanks so much for sharing! Judy, Moderator

  • Moonmomma
    7 months ago

    I get exactly what you are saying 100%. I have A LOT of moles and freckles. I am constantly looking at myself and saying, “Is that new or has that changed?” It always makes me feel better to I am not alone.

  • Judy Cloud moderator author
    7 months ago

    @moonmomma You are definitely not alone! It’s hard to not want to frequently check for suspicious areas, especially for those of us with more freckles or moles!
    Judy, Moderator

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