Less Common Skin Cancers
Uncommon types of skin cancer include Kaposi’s sarcoma, mainly seen in people with weakened immune systems sebaceous gland carcinoma, an aggressive cancer originating in the oil glands in the skin and Merkel cell carcinoma, which is usually found on sun-exposed areas on the head, neck, arms, and legs but often spreads to other parts of the body.
Most Melanoma Does Not Start In A Preexisting Mole
Melanoma can develop in a preexisting mole, says Dr. Marghoob, but nearly 70% of skin melanomas do not. Rather, they occur in normal skin. Moles themselves are not cancerous, and it is extremely rare for a mole to transform into a melanoma, says Dr. Marghoob. That said, he adds, having many moles helps identify people who are at an increased risk for developing melanoma somewhere on their skin.
Since most melanoma develops on normal skin, Dr. Marghoob stresses the importance of protecting the entire surface of the body, including areas with many moles and areas without any moles. Some people use sunblock only where they have moles because they think the moles themselves are dangerous, adds Dr. Marghoob. Stay safe by applying broad-spectrum sunblock with an SPF of at least 30, wearing sun-protective clothing, or using a combination of the two approaches.
Who Gets Skin Cancer And Why
Sun exposure is the biggest cause of skin cancer. But it doesn’t explain skin cancers that develop on skin not ordinarily exposed to sunlight. Exposure to environmental hazards, radiation treatment, and even heredity may play a role. Although anyone can get skin cancer, the risk is greatest for people who have:
- Fair skin or light-colored eyes
- An abundance of large and irregularly-shaped moles
- A family history of skin cancer
- A history of excessive sun exposure or blistering sunburns
- Lived at high altitudes or with year-round sunshine
- Received radiation treatments
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How Do People Find Signs Of Melanoma On Their Own Skin
Performing a skin self-exam as often as recommended by your dermatologist is the best way. While examining your skin, you want to look for the following:
Mole that is changing in any way
Spot that looks different from the rest of the spots on your skin
Growth or spot on your skin that itches, bleeds, or is painful
Band of color beneath or around a nail
Sore that doesnt heal or heals and returns
The ABCDEs of melanoma can help you find changes to a mole, freckle, or other spot on your skin.
How To Spot Skin Cancer
Skin cancer is by far the most common type of cancer. If you know what to look for, you can spot warning signs of skin cancer early. Finding it early, when its small and has not spread, makes skin cancer much easier to treat.
Some doctors and other health care professionals include skin exams as part of routine health check-ups. Many doctors also recommend that you check your own skin about once a month. Look at your skin in a well-lit room in front of a full-length mirror. Use a hand-held mirror to look at areas that are hard to see.
Use the ABCDE rule to look for some of the common signs of melanoma, one of the deadliest forms of skin cancer:
AsymmetryOne part of a mole or birthmark doesnt match the other.
BorderThe edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.
ColorThe color is not the same all over and may include shades of brown or black, sometimes with patches of pink, red, white, or blue.
DiameterThe spot is larger than ¼ inch across about the size of a pencil eraser although melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.
EvolvingThe mole is changing in size, shape, or color.
Basal and squamous cell skin cancers are more common than melanomas, but they are usually very treatable.
Both basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas, or cancers, usually grow on parts of the body that get the most sun, such as the face, head, and neck. But they can show up anywhere.
Basal cell carcinomas: what to look for:
Squamous cell carcinomas: what to look for:
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I’ve Been Diagnosed With Melanomawhat Happens Next
Doctors use the TNM system developed by the American Joint Committee on Cancer to begin the staging process. Its a classification based on three key factors:
T stands for the extent of the original tumor, its thickness or how deep it has grown and whether it has ulcerated.
What Is Breslow depth?
Breslow depth is a measurement from the surface of the skin to the deepest component of the melanoma.
Tumor thickness: Known as Breslow thickness or Breslow depth, this is a significant factor in predicting how far a melanoma has advanced. In general, a thinner Breslow depth indicates a smaller chance that the tumor has spread and a better outlook for treatment success. The thicker the melanoma measures, the greater its chance of spreading.
Tumor ulceration: Ulceration is a breakdown of the skin on top of the melanoma. Melanomas with ulceration are more serious because they have a greater risk of spreading, so they are staged higher than tumors without ulceration.
N indicates whether or not the cancer has already spread to nearby lymph nodes. The N category also includes in-transit tumors that have spread beyond the primary tumor toward the local lymph nodes but have not yet reached the lymph nodes.
M represents spread or metastasis to distant lymph nodes or skin sites and organs such as the lungs or brain.
After TNM categories are identified, the overall stage number is assigned. A lower stage number means less progression of the disease.
Symptoms If Cancer Has Spread To The Brain
You might have any of the following symptoms if your cancer has spread to your brain:
- weakness of a part of the body
- personality changes or mood changes
- eyesight changes
J Tobias and D HochhauserJohn Wiley and Sons Ltd
TNM Staging ChartsLippincott Williams and Wilkins, 2009
Improving supportive and palliative care for adults with cancerNational Institute for Clinical Excellence , 2004
Oxford Textbook of Palliative MedicineEds D Doyle and othersOxford Universty Press, 3rd edition 2005
Cancer and its Management J Tobias and D HochhauserWiley Blackwell, 2015
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Flag A Spot Thats Slow To Heal
Moles and skin spots can get scraped, bumped, and cut, but an otherwise healthy mole should heal quickly. If it doesnt heal within three weeks, that can be a sign of skin cancer, says Dr. McNeill, noting that this includes melanoma, basal cell, and squamous cell cancers. That cancer warning holds true even if, say, the bleeding or oozing happens only occasionally if the skin sore heals and then comes back or if a scab develops and the scab takes a few weeks to heal.
Skin Cancer Diagnosis Always Requires A Skin Biopsy
When you see a dermatologist because youve found a spot that might be skin cancer, your dermatologist will examine the spot.
If the spot looks like it could be a skin cancer, your dermatologist will remove it all or part of it. This can easily be done during your appointment. The procedure that your dermatologist uses to remove the spot is called a skin biopsy.
Having a skin biopsy is essential. Its the only way to know whether you have skin cancer. Theres no other way to know for sure.
What your dermatologist removes will be looked at under a microscope. The doctor who examines the removed skin will look for cancer cells. If cancer cells are found, your biopsy report will tell you what type of skin cancer cells were found. When cancer cells arent found, your biopsy report will explain what was seen under the microscope.
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What If I Have Metastatic Melanoma Symptoms
Whether you have a suspicious mole or are experiencing some symptoms of advanced-stage melanoma, it is important to consult with a physician to receive an accurate diagnosis, as many other conditions can cause similar symptoms. At Moffitt Cancer Center, we provide a comprehensive range of screening, diagnostic, treatment and supportive care services for patients with melanoma and other types of cancer. Within our Cutaneous Oncology Program, our multispecialty team includes surgeons, dermatologists, medical oncologists and other experts who work together as a tumor board to ensure our patients receive the best possible treatment and care.
If you would like to schedule an appointment at Moffitt to discuss your metastatic melanoma symptoms, call or fill out a new patient registration form online. We do not require a referral to schedule an appointment.
Melanoma: What You Should Know
Melanoma is a type of skin cancer. It is not the most common, but it is the most serious, as it often spreads. When this happens, it can be difficult to treat, and the outlook may be poor. Risk factors for melanoma include overexposure to the sun, having fair skin, and a family history of melanoma, among others.
Receiving an early diagnosis and getting prompt treatment can improve the outlook for people with melanoma.
For this reason, people should keep track of any changing or growing moles. Using adequate protection against sun exposure can help a person prevent melanoma altogether.
This article covers the symptoms of melanoma, how a doctor would diagnose it, and ways to treat it. We also explain how best to prevent melanoma.
See A Suspicious Spot See A Dermatologist
If you find a spot on your skin that could be skin cancer, its time to see a dermatologist. Found early, skin cancer is highly treatable. Often a dermatologist can treat an early skin cancer by removing the cancer and a bit of normal-looking skin.
Given time to grow, treatment for skin cancer becomes more difficult.
What You Need To Know About Early Detection
Finding melanoma at an early stage is crucial early detection can vastly increase your chances for cure.
Look for anything new,changing or unusual on both sun-exposed and sun-protected areas of the body. Melanomas commonly appear on the legs of women, and the number one place they develop on men is the trunk. Keep in mind, though, that melanomas can arise anywhere on the skin, even in areas where the sun doesnt shine.
Early detection makes a difference
99%5-year survival rate for patients in the U.S. whose melanoma is detected early. The survival rate drops to 66% if the disease reaches the lymph nodes and27% if it spreads to distant organs.
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A Sore That Doesnt Heal
Many skin cancers are first dismissed as being due to a bug bite, minor injury, or irritation, but become more obvious when they donât go away over time. If you notice a sore on your skin that refuses to heal, even if it seems to be healing but then reappears, talk to your healthcare provider. In general, any skin change that hasnât resolved on its own over a period of two weeks should be evaluated.
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How Can I Tell If I Have Skin Cancer
Skin cancer is actually one of the easiest cancers to find. Thats because skin cancer usually begins where you can see it.
You can get skin cancer anywhere on your skin from your scalp to the bottoms of your feet. Even if the area gets little sun, its possible for skin cancer to develop there.
You can also get skin cancer in places that may surprise you. Skin cancer can begin under a toenail or fingernail, on your genitals, inside your mouth, or on a lip.
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When Melanoma Can’t Be Cured
If your cancer has spread and it is not possible to cure it by surgery, your doctor may still recommend treatment. In this case, treatment may help to relieve symptoms, might make you feel better and may allow you to live longer.
Whether or not you choose to have anti-cancer treatment, symptoms can still be controlled. For example, if you have pain, there are effective treatments for this.
General practitioners, specialists and palliative care teams in hospitals all play important roles in helping people with cancer.
Red Flag #: Unexplained Weight Loss And Loss Of Appetite
Unintentional weight loss is a common side effect of any cancer. When it comes to melanoma, extreme weight loss usually only happens after the cancer has spread from the skin to other parts of the body. Dr. Zaba says she can sometimes tell if a patients melanoma has metastasized because it looks like they have cachexia, a syndrome marked by drastic loss of fat and muscle and increased weakness. Cachexia can also cause loss of appetite, which further contributes to the problem.
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Know That Color Isnt Everything
Dont overlook an odd spot just because the color isnt troubling: At times, cancerous moles can be the same color as your skin, such as in the case of amelanotic melanoma. And for people of color, if any brown spots are also glassy, that could indicate basal cell carcinoma, which presents pink or pearly on fair-skinned individuals, says Dr. Harvey.
What Is A Pathology Report
A pathologist is a doctor who diagnoses diseases by looking at tissue from the body. Samples of your melanoma tissue, removed during surgery or biopsy, will be sent to them for review. The pathology report is a result of their findings. This report contains important information about the tumor which is used to make treatment decisions. You should ask for a copy of this report and keep it in your personal medical files.
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What Are The Symptoms Of Skin Cancer
If you are in a high-risk group for skin cancer or have ever been treated for some form of the disease, you should familiarize yourself with how skin cancers look. Examine your skin from head to toe every few months, using a full-length mirror and hand mirror to check your mouth, nose, scalp, palms, soles, backs of ears, genital area, and between the buttocks. Cover every inch of skin and pay special attention to moles and sites of previous skin cancer. If you find a suspicious growth, have it examined by your dermatologist.
The general warning signs of skin cancer include:
- Any change in size, color, shape, or texture of a mole or other skin growth
- An open or inflamed skin wound that won’t heal
Melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer, may appear as:
- A change in an existing mole
- A small, dark, multicolored spot with irregular borders — either elevated or flat — that may bleed and form a scab
- A cluster of shiny, firm, dark bumps
- A mole larger than a pencil eraser
An easy way to remember the signs of melanoma is the ABCDEs of melanoma: Asymmetry, irregular Borders, changes in Color, Diameter larger than a pencil eraser, Evolution of a mole’s characteristics, be it size, shape, color, elevation, bleeding, itching, or crusting.
Melanoma Can Go Away On Its Own
Melanoma on the skin can spontaneously regress, or begin to, without any treatment. Thats because the bodys immune system is able launch an assault on the disease thats strong enough to spur its retreat. Unfortunately, sometimes this happens only after the disease has spread to other parts of the body, such as the liver, lungs, bones, or brain.
The observation that the immune system can cause melanoma to regress was one of the key insights that led to the development of immunotherapy as a successful treatment for melanoma, explains Dr. Marghoob. The thinking went, if the immune system can get rid of melanoma on its own, there must also be a way to enhance the immune systems natural ability to fight melanoma. This eventually led researchers to develop drugs designed to enhance the immune systems ability to successfully fight melanoma that has spread.
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Red Flag #: Abdominal Pain And Tenderness
Early on, there may be no noticeable symptoms that melanoma has spread to the liver. When symptoms do show up, they commonly include an enlarged, hard, or tender liver and pain in the upper right area of your abdomen, just below your ribs. Other signs cancer has spread to the liver are similar to symptoms of liver disease: fluid buildup in the belly and yellowing of the skin and eyes .
Types Of Skin Cancer:
Basal Cell found mainly in areas exposed to the sun, very common and usually very treatable. Detected at an early stage and removed promptly are almost always curable and cause minimal damage.Squamous Cell typically develops in chronic sun-exposed areas of your body.Melanoma more likely to grow and spread than the more common typesMerkel Cell very rare and tends to grow quickly, may be hard to treat if it spreads past beyond the skin
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When Melanoma Cant Be Cured
If your cancer has spread and it is not possible to cure it by surgery, your doctor may still recommend treatment. In this case, treatment may help to relieve symptoms, might make you feel better and may allow you to live longer.Whether or not you choose to have anti-cancer treatment, symptoms can still be controlled. For example, if you have pain, there are effective treatments for this. General practitioners, specialists and palliative care teams in hospitals all play important roles in helping people with cancer.
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