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Merkel Cell Carcinoma
Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare type of cancer that typically appears on the skin in areas often exposed to the sun, such as the hands and face. Merkel cell carcinoma is a fast-growing cancer that will spread quickly to other parts of the body.
If you notice any sudden changes in your skin, schedule a consultation with your dermatologist. The board-certified dermatologists at Cumberland Skin Dermatology are here to help you with any of your skin concerns, and we can walk you through your treatment options if we discover cancerous cells in your skin.
What is Merkel Cell Carcinoma?
Merkel cell carcinoma appears as flesh-colored or purple/red nodules on the skin. Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare type of skin cancer, but it is very aggressive and has a high risk of returning and spreading to other parts of the body. Merkel cell carcinoma primarily occurs on the head, neck, and arms.
Warning signs of Merkel cell carcinoma often go unnoticed. You are at a higher risk for Merkel cell carcinoma if you repeatedly expose your skin to the sun, have fair skin, are over age 50, or have a weakened immune system. Look for changes in your skin, and keep “AEIOU” in mind when examining spots on your skin:
- A: Asymptomatic lesion (no pain or tenderness)
- E: Expanding lesion (expands quickly)
- I: You are Immunosuppressed
- O: Older than 50
- U: Lesion is an area often exposed to UV rays
Merkel Cell Carcinoma FAQ
Merkel cell carcinoma starts as a painless bump on UV-exposed skin and is usually reddish-purple or skin-colored. These bumps grow rapidly, and most people think they are just some kind of inflamed cyst at first, especially because Merkel cell carcinoma is so rare. However, Merkel cell carcinoma bumps are not painful, whereas an inflamed cyst would be tender to the touch.
Merkel cell carcinoma is a very aggressive and rare cancer that often spreads within two to three years after initial diagnosis. This cancer typically spreads to the lymph nodes first, and the rate of spread varies significantly from patient to patient.
While there isn’t a cure for Merkel cell carcinoma, there are many treatment options available. Survival rates depend on what stage the cancer is in when discovered and whether the cancer has metastasized.
Merkel cell carcinoma can grow rapidly over a period of two to four weeks. It is vital that you immediately seek medical attention for any spot or bump on your body that changes in size.
Around 3,000 cases of Merkel cell carcinoma are diagnosed in the United States each year. It is estimated that there is around one case per 130,000 people in the United States.
The five-year survival rate for Merkel cell carcinoma is around 60 percent, with about 60 percent of the people diagnosed still alive five years after they are diagnosed. Survival rates depend on how soon the cancer is found.
In many cases, surgery, such as Mohs surgery, is used to treat Merkel cell carcinoma. However, radiation may also be part of an initial treatment plan. Treatments vary from patient to patient, but if you are diagnosed with Merkel cell carcinoma, a team of physicians will work with you to find the treatment options that will be best for your case.