Merkel Cell Carcinoma: A Rare Skin Cancer On The Rise
Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare type of skin cancer that affects about 2,000 people in the United States each year.
Though its an uncommon skin cancer, cases of Merkel cell carcinoma have increased rapidly in the last couple of decades.
This type of cancer starts when cells in the skin, called Merkel cells, start to grow out of control.
Merkel cell carcinomas typically grow quickly and can be difficult to treat if they spread.
They can start anywhere on the body, but Merkel cell carcinomas commonly affect areas exposed to the sun, such as the face, neck, and arms.
They may look like pink, red, or purple lumps that are firm when you touch them. Sometimes, they can open up as ulcers or sores.
Risk factors include:
Possible Signs And Symptoms Of Melanoma
The most important warning sign of melanoma is a new spot on the skin or a spot that is changing in size, shape, or color.
Another important sign is a spot that looks different from all of the other spots on your skin .
If you have one of these warning signs, have your skin checked by a doctor.
The ABCDE rule is another guide to the usual signs of melanoma. Be on the lookout and tell your doctor about spots that have any of the following features:
- A is for Asymmetry: One half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other.
- B is for Border:The edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.
- C is for Color:The color is not the same all over and may include different shades of brown or black, or sometimes with patches of pink, red, white, or blue.
- D is for Diameter:The spot is larger than 6 millimeters across , although melanomas can sometimes be smaller than this.
- E is for Evolving: The mole is changing in size, shape, or color.
Some melanomas dont fit these rules. Its important to tell your doctor about any changes or new spots on the skin, or growths that look different from the rest of your moles.
Other warning signs are:
- A sore that doesnt heal
- Spread of pigment from the border of a spot into surrounding skin
- Redness or a new swelling beyond the border of the mole
- Change in sensation, such as itchiness, tenderness, or pain
- Change in the surface of a mole scaliness, oozing, bleeding, or the appearance of a lump or bump
How Can I Tell If I Have Skin Cancer
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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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How Is Skin Cancer Of The Head And Neck Diagnosed
Diagnosis is made by clinical exam and a biopsy. Basal cell and squamous cell cancers are staged by size and extent of growth. Basal cell cancers rarely metastasize to lymph nodes, but they can grow quite large and invade local structures. Squamous cell cancers have a much higher incidence of lymph node involvement in the neck and parotid gland and can spread along nerves.
Melanoma is staged, based not on size but on how deeply it invades the skin layers. Therefore, a superficial or shave biopsy will not provide accurate staging information used to guide treatment. Melanomas can have a very unpredictable course and may spread to distant organs. Melanomas with intermediate thickness often require sentinel node biopsy, a surgical procedure performed by a head and neck surgeon, to determine if microscopic spreading to lymph nodes has occurred.
The Warning Signs Of Skin Cancer
Skin cancers — including melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma — often start as changes to your skin. They can be new growths or precancerous lesions — changes that are not cancer but could become cancer over time. An estimated 40% to 50% of fair-skinned people who live to be 65 will develop at least one skin cancer. Learn to spot the early warning signs. Skin cancer can be cured if it’s found and treated early.
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Melanoma: The Deadliest Skin Cancer
Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer, because it tends to spread if its not treated early.
This cancer starts in the melanocytes cells in the epidermis that make pigment.
About 100,350 new melanomas are diagnosed each year.
Risk factors for melanoma include:
- Having fair skin, light eyes, freckles, or red or blond hair
- Having a history of blistering sunburns
- Being exposed to sunlight or tanning beds
- Living closer to the equator or at a higher elevation
- Having a family history of melanoma
- Having many moles or unusual-looking moles
- Having a weakened immune system
Melanoma can develop within a mole that you already have, or it can pop up as a new dark spot on your skin.
This cancer can form anywhere on your body, but it most often affects areas that have had sun exposure, such as the back, legs, arms, and face. Melanomas can also develop on the soles of your feet, palms of your hands, or fingernail beds.
Signs to watch out for include:
- A mole that changes in color, size, or how it feels
- A mole that bleeds
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Red Flag #: Chest Pain And Trouble Breathing
Melanoma is also known to spread to the lungs, though Dr. Zaba notes that most people dont experience noticeable symptoms in the lungs until a tumor has gotten pretty large. A cough that just wont quit or recurring chest infections can signal that the cancer has traveled to the lungs, Dr. Polsky says. Shortness of breath or trouble breathing can also be a red flag.
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What Causes Cancer To Form On Your Scalp
The main cause of all types of skin cancer is sun exposure. Your scalp is one of your body parts exposed most to the sun, especially if you are bald or have thin hair. That means its 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 whenever possible.
- Spray sunscreen on your scalp.
Other ways to help prevent skin cancer on your scalp are:
- Avoid using tanning beds.
- Limit your time in the sun.
- Check your scalp regularly to spot any potential cancerous spots early. This can help stop precancerous lesions from turning into cancer or stop skin cancer from spreading. You can use a mirror to look at the back and top of your scalp more thoroughly.
Red Flag #: Headaches Or Visual Changes
Just like the liver, not everyone will notice symptoms of melanoma spreading to the brain. But when symptoms do show up, its usually in the form of headaches, problems with eyesight, paralysis on one side of the body, or seizures. If someone simply has a headache, that doesnt mean they have advanced stage melanoma, Dr. Yushak says. But if its a headache thats not going away after a week, and you never have headaches, then thats something that definitely needs to be checked out.
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How To Identify Age Spots
If youre 50 or older, youre likely to notice new age spots developing on your hands, face, and other areas of your skin that have received the most sun exposure. Solar lentigines is the medical term for these areas of skin discoloration that are commonly called age spots or liver spots.
Lentigines are sharply defined patches that are tan or light brown in color. Benign moles are typically brown to darker brown, and they may be flat or raised. Melanomas may be larger and darker than moles, explains Shari Lipner, MD, PhD, a dermatologist at Weill Cornell Medicine.
Dr. Lipner says that lentigines may form due to a genetic disposition or as a result of sun exposure. Lentigines are not cancerous or dangerous, but people who have significant past sun exposure are more likely to have them, as well as an increased risk of developing skin cancer.
Get To Know Your Skin
The sooner a skin cancer is identified and treated, the better your chance of avoiding surgery or, in the case of a serious melanoma or other skin cancer, potential disfigurement or even death.
It is also a good idea to talk to your doctor about your level of risk and for advice on early detection.
It’s important to get to know your skin and what is normal for you, so that you notice any changes. Skin cancers rarely hurt and are much more frequently seen than felt.
Develop a regular habit of checking your skin for new spots and changes to existing freckles or moles.
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Ways To Treat An Infection At Home
If you are concerned that you have developed an infection following skin cancer removal surgery, it’s best to consult your doctor.& nbsp
To care for your surgical wound at home, follow the surgeon’s instructions carefully. Make sure to clean the wound according to the recommended schedule and cover it with a new bandage or gauze. Always wash your hands thoroughly before touching your wound.& nbsp
Understanding Your Stage Of Squamous Cell Skin Cancer
The stage is based on the size of the tumor, how deeply into the skin it has grown, and whether cancer has spread beyond the tumor to the lymph nodes. Your doctor will look at the results of the biopsy to determine the stage. If you have squamous cell skin cancer, your doctor may also recommend imaging such as CT or PET-CT scan, or testing lymph nodes near the tumor to see if the cancer has spread beyond the skin.
Most non-melanoma skin cancers are Stage 0 or Stage 1. Stage 3 and 4 are relatively rare. Based on the type of cancer, the stage of cancer, your overall health, and other factors, your doctor works with you to develop a treatment plan.
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What Are The Abcdefs
- A stands for asymmetry. If you drew a line down the middle of the spot, one half would not be the same shape as the other half.
- B stands for border irregularity. The edges of the area are not sharp and clear, but ragged and different in areas of the periphery.
- C stands for color variation in the lesion. An abnormal mole or spot contains multiple different colors, ranging from tan, brown or black to white, red or even blue. A normal pigment cell birthmark or mole usually is uniformly colored or has two shades of a color arranged regularly, one shade in the center and one on the periphery symmetrically.
- D stands for increased diameter. The abnormal spot is wider than the top of a pencil eraser more than 6 mm in diameter.
- E stands for evolution. Over weeks or months, the spot has grown, changed shape or color, or changed in texture or internal structure.
- F is for “funny or funky,” says Dr. Paragh. ” ‘F’ really stands for the ugly duckling sign, which tells you to watch out for anything that looks very different from anything else on your skin, he adds. Sometimes that can help you catch problem spots a lot earlier than you might be able to otherwise.” This highlights the importance of considering lesions which look very different from other lesions, even if they do not fulfil the above criteria.
What is melanoma?
What Are Some General Signs And Symptoms Of Cancer
Most signs and symptoms are not caused by cancer but can be caused by other things. If you have any signs and symptoms that don’t go away or get worse, you should see a doctor to find out whats causing them. If cancer is not the cause, a doctor can help figure out what the cause is and treat it, if needed.
For instance, lymph nodes are part of the bodys immune system and help capture harmful substances in the body. Normal lymph nodes are tiny and can be hard to find. But when theres infection, inflammation, or cancer, the nodes can get larger. Those near the bodys surface can get big enough to feel with your fingers, and some can even be seen as swelling or a lump under the skin. One reason lymph nodes may swell is if cancer gets trapped there. So, if you have unusual swelling or a lump, you should see your doctor to figure out whats going on.
Here are some of the more common signs and symptoms that may be caused by cancer. However, any of these can be caused by other problems as well.
Sometimes, its possible to find cancer before you have symptoms. The American Cancer Society and other health groups recommend cancer-related check-ups and certain tests for people even though they have no symptoms. This helps find certain cancers early. You can find more information on early detection at the American Cancer Society Guidelines for the Early Detection of Cancer.
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Skin Cancer Of The Head And Neck Treatment
Many early-stage small basal cell cancers or squamous cell cancers can be removed by Mohs surgery, a technique that spares normal tissue through repeated intraoperative margin testing, removing only the cancer and leaving adjacent normal tissue. Tumors with nerve involvement, lymph node involvement or of a large size are not suitable for Mohs surgery. They require a multimodality approach to treatment, with formal surgical resection and adjuvant radiation or chemotherapy.
Melanoma is more likely to spread, and aggressive surgical resection with wide margins is required, in addition to radiation and/or chemotherapy.
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Other Cancers On The Face
A few other rare skin cancers that might happen on the face:
- Lymphoma of the skin is an uncommon type of white blood cell cancer.
- Kaposi’s sarcoma is cancer caused by a herpes virus in immunosuppressed patients that causes skin lesions on the face. They look like painless purplish spots.
- Skin adnexal tumors is a rare cancer type that starts in hair follicles or skin glands.
- Sarcomas are tumors of the connective tissuesspecifically the fat, nerves, bone, skin, and muscles 80% of which occur in the face, head, or neck.
- Cutaneous leiomyosarcoma is an uncommon soft-tissue sarcoma that can happen on the face.
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Signs And Symptoms Of Cancer
Signs and symptoms are ways the body lets you know that you have an injury, illness, or disease.
- A sign, such as fever or bleeding, can be seen or measured by someone else.
- A symptom, such as pain or fatigue, is felt or noticed by the person who has it.
Signs and symptoms of cancer depend on where the cancer is, how big it is, and how much it affects nearby organs or tissues. If a cancer has spread , signs or symptoms may appear in different parts of the body.
Signs And Symptoms Of Non
Non-melanoma skin cancer usually starts as an abnormal area or change on any part of the skin. How non-melanoma skin cancer looks often depends on the type of cancer. Other health conditions can also look like non-melanoma skin cancer. See your doctor if you have any changes on your skin.
The following are common signs and symptoms of basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma , the most common types of non-melanoma skin cancer.
Basal cell carcinoma usually develops on areas of skin exposed to the sun, especially the head, face and neck. It can also develop on the central part of the body . BCC may appear on the skin as:
- a sore that doesnt heal or comes back after healing
- pale white or yellow flat areas that look like scars
- raised and scaly red patches
- small, smooth and shiny lumps that are pearly white, pink or red
- a pink growth with raised edges and indents in the centre
- a growth that has small blood vessels on the surface
- a sore that bleeds
- a growth or area that is itchy
Squamous cell carcinoma usually develops on areas of skin exposed to the sun, but it can also be found on the skin around the genitals and anus. It can occur on the skin of scars, sores, ulcers and burns. SCC may appear on the skin as:
- a sore that doesnt heal or comes back after healing
- rough or scaly red patches with irregular borders
- raised lumps that indent in the centre
- a growth that looks like a wart
- a sore that is crusty or bleeds easily
- a growth or area that is itchy, irritated or sore
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