Sat. Jul 20th, 2024

Merkel Cell Carcinoma: A Rare but Aggressive Skin Cancer

Neuroendocrine carcinoma of the skin is another name for Merkel cell cancer.

Merkel Cell Carcinoma (MCC) is a rare and aggressive form of skin cancer that often goes unnoticed until it reaches an advanced stage.

Named after the Merkel cells in the skin, this cancer is known for its rapid growth and potential to spread to other parts of the body.

A rare kind of skin cancer called Merkel cell carcinoma frequently affects the face, head, and neck and typically manifests as a flesh-colored or bluish-red nodule.

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause of MCC is not fully understood, but it is believed to be linked to a combination of factors, including exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and a weakened immune system.

People with a history of excessive sun exposure, a weakened immune system due to conditions like HIV/AIDS, or those who have undergone organ transplantation are at a higher risk of developing MCC. Additionally, older individuals and those with fair skin are more susceptible.


MCC typically manifests as a painless, firm, and flesh-colored or bluish-red nodule on the skin. These growths often appear on sun-exposed areas like the face, neck, arms, and legs, but can also develop in other parts of the body.

As the cancer progresses, the nodules may become ulcerated or bleed. Since MCC can resemble other skin conditions, such as cysts or benign tumors, it is crucial to consult a dermatologist for an accurate diagnosis.


Diagnosing MCC involves a combination of clinical examination and laboratory tests. Dermatologists may perform a skin biopsy, where a small tissue sample is taken from the suspicious area for analysis.

Immunohistochemistry, a technique that identifies specific proteins, is often used to confirm the diagnosis.

Additionally, imaging tests like CT scans or PET scans may be conducted to determine if the cancer has spread to lymph nodes or other organs.

Treatment Options

The treatment of Merkel Cell Carcinoma typically involves a multidisciplinary approach, with the aim of removing the cancer while preserving as much healthy tissue as possible.

The main treatment options include:

  1. Surgery: Surgical excision is often the first-line treatment for localized MCC. It involves removing the cancerous tissue along with a margin of healthy skin to ensure complete removal.
  2. Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy may be used before or after surgery to target any remaining cancer cells and reduce the risk of recurrence.
  3. Chemotherapy: In cases where MCC has spread to other parts of the body, systemic chemotherapy may be recommended. This treatment uses drugs to kill cancer cells throughout the body.
  4. Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy drugs, such as checkpoint inhibitors, have shown promise in treating MCC by boosting the body’s immune response against the cancer.


The prognosis for Merkel Cell Carcinoma depends on various factors, including the stage at diagnosis, the extent of the cancer’s spread, and the patient’s overall health.

Early detection and prompt treatment can significantly improve outcomes.

However, MCC has a higher recurrence rate and a tendency to spread to lymph nodes and distant organs, making it a challenging cancer to manage.


Merkel Cell Carcinoma is a rare but aggressive skin cancer that requires careful attention and prompt medical intervention.

Understanding the risk factors, recognizing the symptoms, and seeking early diagnosis and treatment are essential for improving outcomes.

By raising awareness about this uncommon skin cancer, we can hope to improve its detection and management, ultimately saving lives through early intervention and effective treatment strategies.

By Parvathy Sukumaran

Parvathy Sukumaran is a Content Creator and Editor at JustCare Health. She is an Educator and a Language Lecturer. She holds a Bachelor's Degree in Education and an M.A in English Literature. She is passionate about writing, archaeology, music and cooking.

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