Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer and can develop anywhere on your skin. It’s most common on areas often exposed to the sun, and your scalp is one of those. Approximately 13 percent of skin cancers are on the scalp.

Often referred to the largest organ in your body, your skin — including the scalp — can be harmed by exposure to the sun’s UV rays, as well as pollutants and chemicals.

“Don’t forget to check your head for growths, as skin cancer can be hard to spot on your head. If you spend a lot of time outdoors, you should check your body regularly.”

Men are more likely to have skin cancer on the scalp. Males are less likely to use preventative habits like wearing a hat and putting on sunscreen.

There are different types of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma are the most common. All of these can be found on your head.

Basal cell carcinoma

The most common type of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma is more common on the head and neck than on other body parts. According to a 2018 review of studies, basal cell carcinomas on the scalp account for between 2 and 18 percent of all basal cell carcinomas.

Squamous cell carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common type of skin cancer. It’s more common in people with fair skin and on areas of skin heavily exposed to the sun, including the scalp. Squamous cell carcinomas on the scalp account for between 3 and 8 percent of all squamous cell carcinomas.

Melanoma

One of the deadliest forms of skin cancer, melanoma often develops in a mole or other skin growth. It can happen in a new mole, or a mole that you’ve had for years. Scalp melanomas account for approximately 3 to 5 percent of all melanomas.

The type of skin cancer can affect the symptoms on your head.

Basal cell carcinoma

Symptoms include:

  • Apearly bumps are often pink or red and are visible on the skin.
  • A small flat skin area.
  • a sore that won’t heal, or keeps healing and then coming back
  • A patch of red or pink may have pink lines visible.
  • A patch on your skin.

Squamous cell carcinoma

  • An open sore on your skin.
  • A red bumps that grows quickly and has a sore or indented spot in the middle of it that is tender when touched.
  • A thick patch of skin.

Melanoma

  • A brown spot on your skin may look like a mole.
  • a mole that changes size, color, itches, or bleeds
  • Remember “ABCDE“:
    • Asymmetry: Are two sides of your mole different?
    • Border: Is the border irregular or jagged?
    • Color: Is the mole one color or varied throughout? A melanoma may be black, tan, brown, white, red, blue, or a combination of any.
    • Diameter: Is the mole over 6mm? This is common for a melanoma, but they can be smaller.

The most common type of melanoma found on the skin.

  • There are some borders that are blotchy.
  • It could be raised or flat to the skin.
  • There are blue, black, tan, brown, or dark brown.

Other types of skin cancer look different. Some melanomas on your head may be clear or pink. Take note of any new mole or spot you see. If you have concerns, you should see your doctor.

Sun exposure is the main cause of skin cancer. If you have thin hair or are bald, your body parts are exposed to the sun the most. It is one of the more common spots for skin cancer.

Other potential causes of skin cancer on your scalp include using a tanning bed and having had radiation treatment on your head or neck area.

The best way to prevent skin cancer on your scalp is to protect your scalp when you go into the sun:

  • Wear a hat or other head covering.
  • You can apply sunscreen to your hair.

There are other ways to prevent skin cancer.

  • Use other tanning beds.
  • Limit your time in the sun.
  • If you notice any potential cancer spots, check your hair regularly.

Precancerous skin and skin cancer can be stopped by checking your hair. You can use a mirror to look at your hair. Some spots may feel rougher than others. They may be tender if picked up.

If you notice a suspicious spot on your head, you can go to your doctor or a skin doctor. Skin cancer diagnosis will be the same regardless of where the spot is found.

Your doctor will likely ask you about your family history of cancer and previous skin issues. They will ask about your habits.

  • How much time do you spend outside?
  • How many times have you been sunburned?
  • If you wear protective clothing and use sunscreen in the sun.
  • If you use tanning beds.

If you noticed the growth, your doctor may ask if it is a new growth or if it has changed over time.

Then your doctor will do a skin exam to look more closely at the lesion and determine if you need further testing. They’ll look at its size, color, shape, and other features.

If your doctor thinks it might be skin cancer on your scalp, they’ll take a biopsy, or small sample, of the growth for testing. This testing can tell your doctor if you have cancer, and if you do, what type.

A small cancer growth can be removed with a biopsy. The main purpose of the test is not this.

If a cancer other than the one you are dealing with is found, your doctor might recommend more testing to see if it has spread. If the spot is melanoma, your doctor may want to perform an x-ray of your head and neck.

Potential treatments for skin cancer on your scalp include:

  • Surgery: Your doctor will remove the cancerous growth and some of the skin around it, to make sure that they removed all the cancer cells. This is usually the first treatment for melanoma. After surgery, you may also need reconstructive surgery, such as a skin graft.
  • Mohs surgery: This type of surgery is used for large, recurring, or hard-to-treat skin cancer. It’s used to save as much skin as possible. In Mohs surgery, your doctor will remove the growth layer by layer, examining each one under a microscope, until there are no cancer cells left.
  • Radiation: If the size of the skin cancer is large, this may be used as a first treatment. It can also be used after surgery, to destroy remaining cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy: If your skin cancer is only on the top layer of skin, you might be able to use a chemotherapy lotion to treat it. Traditional chemotherapy is not typically used for skin cnacer.
  • Freezing: This is typically used for cancer that doesn’t go deep into your skin.
  • Photodynamic therapy: You’ll take medications that will make cancer cells sensitive to light. Then your doctor will use lasers to destroy the cells.
  • Immunotherapy: This type of treatment helps your immune system recognize and eliminate cancer cells. It’s usually used to treat melanoma.
  • Curettage and electrodessication: This involves scraping away the spot with a special tool and then applying an electric signal to destroy any remaining cancer cells. But if you have thick hair growing in the area that’s being treated, your doctor may suggest a different approach.

Depending on the type of skin cancer, the outlook for your hair is different.

Basal cell carcinoma

If caught early, basal cell carcinoma is often curable. The treatment of basal cell carcinoma on the scalp is more difficult than other types. They are more likely to recur after being treated.

The five-year recurrence rate for scalp basal cell carcinomas treated with curettage and electrodesiccation – one of the most commonly used treatments – is approximately 5%-23 % depending on how big the carcinoma was.

Squamous cell carcinoma

Squamous cell cancer is generally very treatable and curable when found early, as well. In people who are immunosuppressed, it can sometimes be more problematic and more likely to spread. It can also be serious if it’s not caught early.

The overall five-year recurrence rate for squamous cell carcinoma is around 3%-8%, according to a Dutch study from 2019. Cancers treated with Mohs surgery had a lower recurrence rate than those treated with standard removal surgery (excision). Mors surgery is typically used when this type of cancer appears on your head or neck.

Melanoma

Early detection can still improve the outcomes of melanoma, a more serious form of skin cancer.

Melanoma on the scalp appears to have a worse prognosis than other types of melanoma. This may be because scalp melanomas are typically more aggressive and more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage.

In a small 2017 study, the median survival time from diagnosis for melanoma on the scalp wass 15.6 months, versus 25.6 months for other melanomas. The five-year recurrence-free survival rate for melanoma on the scalp was 45 percent, versus 62.9 percent for other melanomas.

Skin cancer can be found on any part of your body. It is important to do as much as you can to prevent skin cancer on your head, because it is harder to see on your head and has a worse chance of being fatal.

Wear a hat or head covering when you go out in the sun to protect yourself from the harmful rays.