As a more aggressive cancer, melanomas require more aggressive treatment. If you catch it early (meaning it hasn’t rooted deep into the skin), the cancerous tissue can usually be removed using a local anesthetic in your dermatologist’s office. “With more advanced cases, we’ll do a lymph node biopsy to test whether it’s spread,” explains Dr. McNeill. When that’s the case, oncologists get involved to help treat the spread of the cancer.
What are the warning signs of 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 — Dr. Day says it’s deadlier. Merkel cell carcinoma kills one in three patients (as opposed to one in nine for melanoma), 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 Dr. 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 Dr. McNeill.
What about other types of cancer that aren’t skin-related?
“Certain metastatic cancers can show up in the skin,” says Dr. Day. Cancers prone to spreading (such as breast cancer or kidney cancer), can sometimes spread to the skin, causing what might look like a cyst or little red bump.
A type of lymphoma (cancer of the lymph nodes) called CTCL can also show up in the form of skin issues. Though cutaneous T-cell lymphoma isn’t technically a skin cancer, it can show up on your skin looking “like eczema,” explains Dr. Day. Just like eczema, the cancer-induced rash can be itchy and dry, and “the skin has a cigarette-paper quality to it,” she explains.