Merkel Cell Carcinoma

Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC), also known as neuroendocrine carcinoma of the skin. Merkel cells are found in the top layer of the epidermis and are believed to be responsible for tactile functions, as well as sending touch-related messages to the brain. Merkel cell carcinoma can occur anywhere in the body where Merkel cells are found, but most often starts on the face, head, or neck, or those areas more often exposed to the sun. Even though MCC is very rare, it’s one of the most dangerous and highly aggressive skin cancers, and can spread to other parts of the body beyond the skin—typically to nearby lymph nodes and possibly to other major organs. Merkel cell carcinoma affects more men than women, and though it can occur at any age is more likely to be diagnosed in people over the age of 50 years.

Signs and symptoms typically start with changes in skin, and may also cause one or more of the following:

  • Bump, freckle, or mole that changes size, shape, or color
  • Flesh-colored, fast-growing, painless nodule
  • New firm, dome-shaped, raised bump
  • New red, blue or purple growth on the skin

The exact underlying cause or causes of MCC are unknown, though increased risk is highly associated with the Merkel cell polyomavirus, as well excessive exposure to the sun or to artificial light, such tanning beds. Other suggested risk factors include a weakened immune system, history of other skin cancers, light skin color, and age. Merkel cell carcinoma is typically curable if detected and treated in the early stages. Treatment depends on the type, size and location of the cancer, and whether the tumor has metastasized to other parts of the body – which due to the aggressive nature of MCC is highly likely.

Treatment options for MCC may include one or more of the following:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgery