A new, fast-growing skin cancer to watch out for

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by By JEAN ENERSEN / KING 5 News

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KING5.com

Posted on March 11, 2009 at 5:30 PM

Updated Friday, Jan 4 at 10:44 AM

Video: New cancer threat

If you think you know how to check for skin cancer, think again. There's a new type that doesn't look anything like other skin cancers. It's so new that many doctors don't even know about it.

For people who enjoy fun in the sun, there's a rare, rapidly growing skin cancer to watch for: Merkel cell carcinoma.

Dr. Paul Nghiem at the University of Washington says it's new on the radar and often misdiagnosed.

"Only in the past one to two years have we been teaching about Merkel cell because it's the new kid on the block," said Nghiem. "And if one doesn't catch it early, it is very often deadly."

Merkel cell carcinoma usually starts as a cyst and grows fast. The key is to find it early by knowing what to look for.

"So if you see something on your body that is different, that is rapidly growing, that's often not tender, that's in a sun-exposed area, that's the kind to think of. Go to your doctor and frankly insist that it's different than other things and you need a biopsy," said Nghiem.

A biopsy will determine if a patient has Merkel cell carinoma. If treated early, it's usually curable.

Merkel cell skin cancer most often appears on the face, head or neck, but it can also affect arms and legs.

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