Merkel Cell Carcinoma
Merkel cell carcinoma, also called neuroendocrine cancer of the skin, is a rare cancer that develops on or just beneath the skin and in the hair follicles. It usually affects people who are over 70 years of age, and affects men more often than women. The disease is treated through surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy. Once the cancer has spread, it is more difficult to cure.
What Is Merkel Cell Carcinoma?Merkel cell carcinoma is also known as neuroendocrine cancer of the skin and trabecular cancer. It is a rare cancer that develops on or just beneath the skin and in the hair follicles.
Who Does It Affect?Although Merkel cell carcinoma usually affects people who are more than 70 years of age, it can affect people of all ages. The majority of patients with the disease are white, and it affects more men than women.
What Causes It?The causes of Merkel cell carcinoma are not known. However, researchers have learned that:
- Merkel cell carcinoma can develop quickly in people who have had an organ transplant and are taking drugs to suppress their immune system (immunosuppressives)
- Exposure to arsenic may increase the risk for Merkel cell carcinoma
- Exposure to sunlight may play a role in the development of this cancer because the disease usually occurs on the face, head, and neck.
Merkel cell carcinoma usually appears as firm, painless, shiny skin lumps (nodules) or tumors. The lumps are usually red, pink, or blue, and vary in size ranging from less than a quarter of an inch to more than 2 inches. About half of all Merkel cell carcinomas occur on the sun-exposed areas of the head and neck, and one-third of all Merkel cell carcinomas occur on the arms and legs. However, the disease may also begin on other parts of the body, such as the torso.