Spotting Other Types Of Skin Cancer
While “the big three” are the most common types of skin cancer, they’re not the only ones you should be aware of.
Merkel Cell Carcinoma
“After ‘the big three,’ the next skin cancer you think about is Merkel cell carcinoma,”Doris Day, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City and a spokesperson for the Skin Cancer Foundation, tells Allure. While it’s pretty uncommon about 40 times rarer than melanoma Day says it’s deadlier. Merkel cell carcinoma kills one in three patients , according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
This type of cancer is incredibly hard to spot, which explains why it’s so deadly. “Merkel cell can be tricky to diagnose because it doesn’t always present the same way it can look like a cyst or just a little red bump, and it can occur anywhere on the body,” says Day. “This is one of the reasons why it’s super important to see a board-certified dermatologist for skin checks.”
Merkel cell carcinomas typically don’t occur in people under 50, but recent data suggests that could change. As we previously reported, rates of Merkel cell are estimated to be rising six times faster than other types of skin cancer something seriously concerning to dermatologists, given how aggressive this type of cancer can be. “If a Merkel cell is not treated, it’s certainly deadlier than a melanoma,” says McNeill.
For these types of skin issues, a dermatologist would refer you to a specialist in treating that specific cancer.
Melanoma Signs And Symptoms
Melanoma skin cancer is much more serious than basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. It can spread quickly to other organs and causes the vast majority of skin cancer deaths in the United States. Usually melanomas develop in or around an existing mole.
Signs and symptoms of melanoma vary depending on the exact type and may include:
- A flat or slightly raised, discolored patch with irregular borders and possible areas of tan, brown, black, red, blue or white
- A firm bump, often black but occasionally blue, gray, white, brown, tan, red or your usual skin tone
- A flat or slightly raised mottled tan, brown or dark brown discoloration
- A black or brown discoloration, usually under the nails, on the palms or on the soles of the feet
See more pictures and get details about different types of melanoma in our dedicated melanoma section.
What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Skin Cancer
Skin Cancer Symptoms
If a spot on your skin looks suspicious to you, theres one cardinal rule: Get to a doctor to have it checked out. Thats because all three of the most common skin cancers including the most dangerous, melanoma are 99 percent curable if diagnosed and removed early, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation .
Thats why a regular regimen of self-checks, as well as establishing a relationship with a dermatologist, is important in spotting skin cancer symptoms and treating skin cancer early and effectively.
The SCF recommends scheduling an appointment once a year with a dermatologist for a full-body skin check to screen for skin cancer.
If youre in a higher risk group, such as you have a history of atypical moles, your dermatologist may suggest coming in more often.
In advance of your appointment, you should examine your own body in order to start a conversation with your doctor about any skin changes. Avoid nail polish and makeup and keep your hair down so that you dont inadvertently keep any suspect moles hidden.
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Basal Cell Skin Cancer Warning Signs
Basal cell cancer tends to develop on parts of the body that get a lot of sun exposure, like the face, head, and neck, but they can appear anywhere.
Some are flat and look a lot like normal skin. Others have more distinctive characteristics, says the American Cancer Society , including:
- Flat, firm, pale, or yellow areas that resemble a scar
- Raised, reddish patches of skin that might be itchy or irritated
- Small bumps that might be pink, red, pearly translucent, or shiny, possibly with areas of blue, brown, or black
- Pink growths with slightly raised edges and an indentation in the center tiny blood vessels might run through it like the spokes of a wheel
- Open sores, possibly with oozing or crusted areas, that dont heal or that go through cycles of healing and bleeding
- Delicate areas that bleed easily. For instance, having a sore or cut from shaving that lingers longer than one week.
These slow-growing skin cancers can be easy to ignore unless they become big and begin to itch, bleed, or even hurt, according to the ACS.
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How Do People Find Bcc On Their Skin
Many people find it when they notice a spot, lump, or scaly patch on their skin that is growing or feels different from the rest of their skin. If you notice any spot on your skin that is growing, bleeding, or changing in any way, see a board-certified dermatologist. These doctors have the most training and experience in diagnosing skin cancer.
To find skin cancer early, dermatologists recommend that everyone check their own skin with a skin self-exam. This is especially important for people who have a higher risk of developing BCC. Youll find out what can increase your risk of getting this skin cancer at, Basal cell carcinoma: Who gets and causes.
Images used with permission of:
The American Academy of Dermatology National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides.
J Am Acad Dermatol. 2019 80:303-17.
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Rashes Linked To Other Cancers
A rash may also be a sign of cancers that develop away from the skin, such as different forms of lymphoma.
Lymphoma is dangerous, as cancer cells circulate throughout the body. These cells may then grow in many organs or tissues at once.
In the sections below, we list some other types of cancer that may cause skin symptoms:
How Often Should You Check For Skin Cancer
Yearly skin exams are typically recommended as a preventative measure, says Dr. Crutchfield. In addition to a head-to-toe exam, they can also take photos of any suspicious moles.
A monthly skin-check at home is recommended to check for new lesions or to monitor any changes in atypical moles. Do the skin-check by standing naked in front of a full-length mirror, in a room with good lighting, holding a hand mirror, says Dr. King. . Get a friend or partner to do a check of hard to see places like your back.
Bottom line: There are many types of skin cancer, each of which can look different person to personso go see your doc if you notice any marks on your skin that are new or changing or worrisome.
When it comes to reviewing skin cancer pictures and identifying the big C, Dr. Crutchfield’s best advice is “see spot, see spot change, see a dermatologist.”
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A Primer On Skin Cancer
Malignant melanoma, especially in the later stages, is serious and treatment is difficult. Early diagnosis and treatment can increase the survival rate. Nonmelanoma skin cancers include basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Both are common and are almost always cured when found early and treated. People who’ve had skin cancer once are at risk for getting it again they should get a checkup at least once a year.
Medical Treatment For Skin Cancer
Surgical removal is the mainstay of therapy for both basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas. For more information, see Surgery.
People who cannot undergo surgery may be treated by external radiation therapy. Radiation therapy is the use of a small beam of radiation targeted at the skin lesion. The radiation kills the abnormal cells and destroys the lesion. Radiation therapy can cause irritation or burning of the surrounding normal skin. It can also cause fatigue. These side effects are temporary. In addition, a topical cream has recently been approved for the treatment of certain low-risk nonmelanoma skin cancers.
In advanced cases, immune therapies, vaccines, or chemotherapy may be used. These treatments are typically offered as clinical trials. Clinical trials are studies of new therapies to see if they can be tolerated and work better than existing therapies.
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What Causes Skin Cancer
Ultraviolet light exposure, most commonly from sunlight, is overwhelmingly the most frequent cause of skin cancer.
Other important causes of skin cancer include the following:
- Use of tanning booths
- Immunosuppression – This means impairment of the immune system. The immune system protects the body from foreign entities, such as germs or substances that cause an allergic reaction. This suppression may occur as a consequence of some diseases or can be due to medications prescribed to combat conditions such as autoimmune diseases or prevent organ transplant rejection.
- Exposure to unusually high levels of X-rays
- Contact with certain chemicals-arsenic , hydrocarbons in tar, oils, and soot
The following people are at the greatest risk:
- People with fair skin, especially types that freckle, sunburn easily, or become painful in the sun
- People with light hair and blue or green eyes
- Those with certain genetic disorders that deplete skin pigment such as albinism, xeroderma pigmentosum
- People who have already been treated for skin cancer
- People with numerous moles, unusual moles, or large moles that were present at birth
- People with close family members who have developed skin cancer
- People who had at least one severe sunburn early in life
A basal cell carcinoma usually looks like a raised, smooth, pearly bump on the sun-exposed skin of the head, neck, or shoulders.
A squamous cell carcinoma is commonly a well-defined, red, scaling, thickened patch on sun-exposed skin.
Tips For Screening Moles For Cancer
Examine your skin on a regular basis. A common location for melanoma in men is on the back, and in women, the lower leg. But check your entire body for moles or suspicious spots once a month. Start at your head and work your way down. Check the “hidden” areas: between fingers and toes, the groin, soles of the feet, the backs of the knees. Check your scalp and neck for moles. Use a handheld mirror or ask a family member to help you look at these areas. Be especially suspicious of a new mole. Take a photo of moles and date it to help you monitor them for change. Pay special attention to moles if you’re a teen, pregnant, or going through menopause, times when your hormones may be surging.
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Squamous Cell Carcinoma Pictures
Squamous cell carcinoma also appears in areas most exposed to the sun and, as indicated in the pictures below, often presents itself as a scab or sore that doesnt heal, a volcano-like growth with a rim and crater in the middle or simply as a crusty patch of skin that is a bit inflamed and red and doesnt go away over time.
Any lesion that bleeds or itches and doesnt heal within a few weeks may be a concern even if it doesnt look like these Squamous cell carcinoma images.
When To See A Doctor
It is always vital to seek medical advice early for a skin change, no matter how small it may appear. Make an appointment with your doctor for a skin exam if you notice:
- Any new changes, lesions, or persistent marks on your skin
- A mole that is asymmetrical, has an irregular border, is multicolored, is large in diameter, is evolving, or has begun to crust or bleed
- An “ugly duckling” mole on the skin
- Any changes to your skin that you are concerned about
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How To Spot A Bcc: Five Warning Signs
Check for BCCs where your skin is most exposed to the sun, especially the face, ears, neck, scalp, chest, shoulders and back, but remember that they can occur anywhere on the body. Frequently, two or more of these warning signs are visible in a BCC tumor.
Please note: Since not all BCCs have the same appearance, these images serve as a general reference to what basal cell carcinoma looks like.
An open sore that does not heal
A reddish patch or irritated area
A small pink growth with a slightly raised, rolled edge and a crusted indentation in the center
A shiny bump or nodule
A scar-like area that is flat white, yellow or waxy in color
How To Check Your Skin
- Make sure you check your entire body, as skin cancers can sometimes occur on parts of the body that are not exposed to the sun, such as the soles of the feet, between fingers and toes and under nails.
- Undress completely and make sure you have good light.
- Use a mirror to check hard to see spots, like your back and scalp, or get a family member, partner or friend to check for you.
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What Does Skin Cancer Look Like
Basal cell carcinoma
BCC frequently develops in people who have fair skin. People who have skin of color also get this skin cancer.
BCCs often look like a flesh-colored round growth, pearl-like bump, or a pinkish patch of skin.
BCCs usually develop after years of frequent sun exposure or indoor tanning.
BCCs are common on the head, neck, and arms however, they can form anywhere on the body, including the chest, abdomen, and legs.
Early diagnosis and treatment for BCC are important. BCC can grow deep. Allowed to grow, it can penetrate the nerves and bones, causing damage and disfigurement.
Squamous cell carcinoma of the skin
People who have light skin are most likely to develop SCC. This skin cancer also develops in people who have darker skin.
SCC often looks like a red firm bump, scaly patch, or a sore that heals and then re-opens.
SCC tends to form on skin that gets frequent sun exposure, such as the rim of the ear, face, neck, arms, chest, and back.
SCC can grow deep into the skin, causing damage and disfigurement.
Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent SCC from growing deep and spreading to other areas of the body.
SCC can develop from a precancerous skin growth
People who get AKs usually have fair skin.
AKs usually form on the skin that gets lots of sun exposure, such as the head, neck, hands, and forearms.
Because an AK can turn into a type of skin cancer, treatment is important.
Abcde Melanoma Detection Guide
A is for Asymmetry
Look for spots that lack symmetry. That is, if a line was drawn through the middle, the two sides would not match up.
B is for Border
A spot with a spreading or irregular edge .
C is for Colour
Blotchy spots with a number of colours such as black, blue, red, white and/or grey.
D is for Diameter
Look for spots that are getting bigger.
E is for Evolving
Spots that are changing and growing.
These are some changes to look out for when checking your skin for signs of any cancer:
- New moles.
- Moles that increases in size.
- An outline of a mole that becomes notched.
- A spot that changes colour from brown to black or is varied.
- A spot that becomes raised or develops a lump within it.
- The surface of a mole becoming rough, scaly or ulcerated.
- Moles that itch or tingle.
- Moles that bleed or weep.
- Spots that look different from the others.
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What To Do If You Notice Skin Changes
If you notice anything unusual on your skin, make an appointment to show it to your GP. It might help to take a photograph of anything unusual, so you can check for any changes. Remember there are many other skin conditions that are not cancer, especially in older people.
It can be more difficult to notice changes if you have darker skin. This is because symptoms of skin cancer may be less obvious than in people with paler skin. If you notice any changes, such as a sore that does not heal, always see your GP.
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The Ugly Duckling Sign
The “ugly duckling sign” is another warning method to help identify melanomas. Usually, moles on your body look quite similar to each other. However, compared to other moles, melanomas tend to stand out like an ugly duckling. The more you check your skin and become familiar with it, the easier it becomes to spot an ugly duckling early.
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Squamous Cell Carcinoma In Situ
This photo contains content that some people may find graphic or disturbing.
Squamous cell carcinoma in situ, also known as Bowens disease, is a precancerous condition that appears as a red or brownish patch or plaque on the skin that grows slowly over time. The patches are often found on the legs and lower parts of the body, as well as the head and neck. In rare cases, it has been found on the hands and feet, in the genital area, and in the area around the anus.
Bowens disease is uncommon: only 15 out of every 100,000 people will develop this condition every year. The condition typically affects the Caucasian population, but women are more likely to develop Bowens disease than men. The majority of cases are in adults over 60. As with other skin cancers, Bowens disease can develop after long-term exposure to the sun. It can also develop following radiotherapy treatment. Other causes include immune suppression, skin injury, inflammatory skin conditions, and a human papillomavirus infection.
Bowens disease is generally treatable and doesnt develop into squamous cell carcinoma. Up to 16% of cases develop into cancer.