If that pimple-like bump on your face hasn’t budged after more than a couple weeks—and if it bleeds when you pick it—it might actually be a kind of skin cancer.
“I see so many patients who come in complaining of a pimple that won’t heal and it ends up begin a basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma, the two most common forms of skin cancer,” says Bradley S. Bloom, M.D., a New York City-based dermatologist with expertise in skin cancer surgery.
These types of non-melanoma skin cancer can show up anywhere on the body, but they usually surface where you’ve had the most sun exposure, like on your face, arms, and legs. They often look like a small zit or shiny, pearly bump, but they can also show up as a red patch that looks a lot like eczema, or even a patch of hardened, dry skin.
If your dermatologist suspects it might be skin cancer, he will perform a biopsy, an in-office procedure where he’ll remove the spot so it can be sent to a lab to check for cancerous cells. If it comes back positive, you’ll usually be treated with another in-office procedure: Mohs micrographic surgery, which removes any underlying layers of skin cancer, curing the condition, says Dr. Bloom.
It’s also possible that a sore pimple that doesn’t heal is actually Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), a bacterial infection that is resistant to many forms of antibiotics, says Bobby Buka, M.D., section chief for the department of dermatology at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
In addition to taking an antibiotic with the hope it’ll work, your doctor will also surgically drain the infected skin area, preventing the bacteria from tunneling its way into your body, where it could potentially cause a life-threatening infection, he says.