Merkel Cell Carcinoma: Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

Merkel Cell Carcinoma: Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

Merkel Cell Carcinoma: Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention


When it comes to skin cancer, melanoma is usually the first type that comes to mind. However, there is another form of skin cancer called Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC), which is a rare but aggressive cancer that deserves more attention. In this blog, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about Merkel cell carcinoma, from its causes and symptoms to its treatment and prevention. Whether you’re worried about yourself or a loved one, this information can help you identify MCC early on and seek medical attention immediately.


What is Merkel cell carcinoma?

Merkel cell carcinoma is a type of skin cancer that occurs when Merkel cells, which are found in the skin and hair follicles, grow out of control. Unlike other types of skin cancer, MCC does not usually develop due to overexposure to UV radiation from the sun or tanning beds. Instead, it is linked to a virus known as Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCV), which is present in the skin of most adults. When the virus mutates, it can trigger the growth of abnormal Merkel cells that form cancerous tumors. MCC can occur on any part of the body but is most common in areas exposed to the sun, such as the face, neck, and arms.

What are the symptoms of Merkel cell carcinoma?

Merkel cell carcinoma presents as a firm, painless bump or nodule on the skin that is usually pink, red, or purple in color. It can also form on a pre-existing mole or patch of skin. The tumor grows quickly and may spread to nearby lymph nodes and organs, making early detection crucial. Other symptoms include itching, bleeding, and tenderness in the affected area. If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s important to see a dermatologist or oncologist right away.

How is Merkel cell carcinoma treated?

Treatment for Merkel cell carcinoma varies depending on the stage of cancer. In early stages, surgical removal of the tumor is typically the first line of defense. If the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes, radiation therapy or chemotherapy may be necessary. For more advanced cases, immunotherapy or targeted therapy may be used to stop the growth of cancer cells. Your doctor may recommend one or more of these treatments based on your specific condition and medical history.

How can you prevent Merkel cell carcinoma?

Like other types of skin cancer, prevention is key when it comes to Merkel cell carcinoma. Avoiding prolonged exposure to UV rays from the sun and tanning beds is the best way to reduce your risk of developing skin cancer. Wearing protective clothing, such as long-sleeved shirts, pants, and hats, when spending time outdoors can also help. It’s important to regularly examine your skin for any unusual bumps or growths and report them to a dermatologist. If you have a weakened immune system, you should also take extra precautions to protect your skin.



Merkel cell carcinoma may be rare, but it can be deadly if left untreated. Knowing the symptoms and risk factors for this type of skin cancer can help you identify it early on and seek treatment before it spreads. At Rabkin Dermatopathology Lab, we provide diagnostic dermatopathology in Pittsburgh, PA to assist in the detection and diagnosis of skin cancer. Remember to protect your skin and schedule regular check-ups with your dermatologist to reduce your risk of developing Merkel cell carcinoma and other types of skin cancer.



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Pittsburgh, PA 15238


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