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Does Merkel Cell Carcinoma Metastasize?

Merkel cell carcinoma grows rapidly and often metastasizes (spreads) to other parts of the body. Although the cancer usually spreads to regional lymph nodes, it may also spread to the:
  • Liver
  • Bones
  • Lungs
  • Brain.
Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped structures that are found throughout the body. They produce and store infection-fighting cells. Merkel cell carcinoma that has metastasized may respond to treatment with chemotherapy, but this therapy does not usually cure the disease. Early diagnosis and treatment are important factors in decreasing the chances of it spreading to other parts of the body.


Key information about Merkel cell carcinoma includes the following:
  • It is a rare cancer that develops on or just beneath the skin and in the hair follicles.
  • It occurs most often on the face, head, and neck.
  • Early detection and treatment are important because Merkel cell carcinoma can spread rapidly. It tends to spread to the regional (nearby) lymph nodes, and may also spread to the liver, bones, lungs, and brain.
  • Merkel cell carcinoma is difficult to cure once it spreads.
  • People taking drugs to suppress their immune system after an organ transplant can quickly develop Merkel cell carcinoma.
  • Researchers believe that exposure to sunlight may increase a person's risk of developing this disease.
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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