Merkel Cell Carcinoma
Posted September 14, 2022 by Anusha ‐ 2 min read
Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare and aggressive type of skin cancer that can be life-threatening. It develops in Merkel cells found in your skin’s outer layer.
Other names for Merkel Cell Carcinoma
Merkel cell cancer.
Neuroendocrine carcinoma of the skin.
Causes of Merkel Cell Carcinoma
UV rays from sun exposure or artificial light sources like tanning beds cause most types of skin cancer, including Merkel cell carcinoma.
UV radiation can damage the genetic makeup, or DNA, of skin cells.
Eight in 10 people with Merkel cell carcinoma have the Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCP).
But most people infected with MCP don’t develop Merkel cell carcinoma.
This common childhood virus doesn’t cause symptoms, and there isn’t a way to screen for it.
Medical experts are still trying to determine how and why the virus causes skin cancer in some people.
Symptoms of Merkel Cell Carcinoma
The lump may be:
About the size of a dime and growing quickly.
Dome shaped or raised.
Similar to a pimple (acne) or insect bite.
Skin colored or red, purple or bluish-red.
Tender or sore.
Diagnosis of Merkel Cell Carcinoma
A dermatologist diagnoses and treats skin diseases like Merkel cell carcinoma.
Seeing a skin cancer specialist is important because other conditions like benign (noncancerous) cysts, infected hair follicles (folliculitis) and styes can look similar to Merkel cell carcinoma.
Your healthcare provider will perform a full-body skin exam.
They may feel for swollen lymph nodes, which can indicate infection or potential cancer spread.
You’ll receive a skin biopsy of the tumor to check for cancer cells.
You may get one or more of these tests to determine the cancer stage of Merkel cell carcinoma:
Positron emission tomography (PET) scan.
Sentinel node biopsy or needle biopsy.
Treatment of Merkel Cell Carcinoma
Treatments for Merkel cell carcinoma depend on the cancer stage. Early-stage Merkel cell carcinoma (stages 0 to II ) responds better to treatments than late-stage (stages III and IV) cancers.
Healthcare providers surgically remove Merkel cell carcinoma tumors. Surgical options include:
Mohs surgery to remove the tumor and skin layers while preserving as much healthy tissue as possible.
Wide local excision to remove the tumor and some surrounding healthy tissue.
Lymph node dissection to surgically remove lymph nodes that have metastatic cancer cells.