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Merkel Cell Carcinoma Resources
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Merkel Cell Carcinoma

Merkel Cell Carcinoma

Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare and dangerous form of skin cancer that forms in the Merkel cells, a special kind of cell found in the top layer of skin, near the nerve endings involved in giving you the sense of fine touch. Because this form of cancer spreads so quickly, it's very important to seek medical care immediately if this cancer is suspected.

What are the symptoms of merkel cell carcinoma?
These tumors usually appear as painless lesions or nodules, usually on sun-exposed areas. They frequently appear on the eyelids. They are aggressive and fast-changing and usually are pinkish, reddish, purplish or skin-colored. Size varies.

How is merkel cell carcinoma diagnosed?
A biopsy will be performed. Depending on individual factors, this might involve removing the entire tumor or just a portion of it. A pathologist will confirm the diagnosis. Imaging tests may be done to see if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

What are the treatments for merkel cell carcinoma?
If possible, the entire tumor will be removed. Sometimes, a Mohs micrographic surgery is done, in which the doctor removes one small layer at a time, each of which is examined microscopically. The process continues until a cancer-free section is examined. Radiation treatment may target the area where the tumor was removed. If the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes, they may be removed and that area may also be irradiated. Usually, chemotherapy is only performed when it's believed the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.

What are the risk factors for merkel cell carcinoma?
Prolonged sun exposure and a history of sunburns are risk factors, as is the use of tanning beds. People with fair complexions are at higher risk than are people with darker skin. This cancer usually appears in people aged 50 and older.

What are some additional resources for learning about Merkel cell carcinoma?
If you or your loved one is facing Merkel cell carcinoma, CalvertHealth has a whole range of services designed to help you so you never take this journey alone. Please talk to your CalvertHealth provider, your Nurse Navigator, or check the service pages for information about treatments, services and support groups.
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