What is Merkel Cell Carcinoma?
Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is a rare but aggressive type of skin cancer. It is estimated that the 5 year survival is 64 percent for local disease, 40 percent for regional disease, and 18 percent for distant disease. While MCC can develop in younger populations most patients are diagnosed above the age of 70.
Risk Factors for Merkel Cell Carcinoma
The immune system is very important in the development of MCCs. Patients with an immune system that is suppressed (for reasons such as requiring immune suppressing medications to prevent rejection of an organ transplant, having other malignancies such as chronic lymphocytic leukemia, or having immune weakening infections such as HIV) have increased risk. In 2008 a novel virus called a polyomavirus was detected in a subset of MCCs.
Symptoms of Merkel Cell Carcinoma
Merkel cell carcinoma typically appears as a firm bump on the skin that may be purple or red. While MCC can develop on many areas of the body it most commonly originates on skin exposed to ultraviolet light, such as the head and neck; these locations account for 48 percent of all MCC diagnoses.
Treatments for Merkel Cell Carcinoma
Treatment of localized MCC encompasses surgical and radiation based approaches. Systemic (whole body therapies) such as chemotherapy are considered when MCC metastasizes. Given the rarity of distantly metastatic or locally advanced MCC, it is important to have this condition managed by an experienced, multidisciplinary team.