Merkel Cell Carcinoma

What is Merkel cell carcinoma?

Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare but fast -growing form of skin cancer that tends to spread quickly. It develops in Merkel cells, which are found at the base of the outermost layer of your skin. Nodules primarily appear on sun-exposed parts of the body such as the face, head or neck and are most common in older people, and people with light skin color.

Merkel cell carcinoma is usually identified as a fast-growing nodule on the skin that is either skin-colored or can be reddish or blueish in color. Risk factors include excessive exposure to sunlight or tanning beds, a weakened immune system, history of other cancers, or older age.

Diagnosis of Merkel cell carcinoma involves physical exam and skin biopsy. In addition, one or more of the following tests may be used:

  • Additional imaging (CT, PET)
  • Lymph node biopsy and dissection
  • Tumor tissue biopsy

Treatment depends on what stage the cancer is at (how much it has spread to other parts of the body) and several other factors but may include:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Chemotherapy

Your full team of care providers will work closely together to review your diagnostic tests, identify the best course of treatment particular to you, and help you understand your diagnosis and what to expect with any treatment you have.

More information about Merkel cell carcinoma (National Cancer Institute)