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Treatment for Merkel Cell Carcinoma

Treatment for Merkel cell carcinoma often depends on the stage of the cancer, the patient's age, and the patient's overall condition. Specific treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. In most cases, treatment for Merkel cell carcinoma involves a combination of methods. For example, surgery may be combined with radiation therapy and then followed with chemotherapy.

Treatment for Merkel Cell Carcinoma: An Overview

Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare type of disease in which malignant (cancerous) cells are found on or just beneath the skin and in the hair follicles. Merkel cell carcinoma is also called neuroendocrine cancer of the skin.
While Merkel cell carcinoma grows rapidly and often metastasizes (spreads) to other parts of the body, it is important to note that even relatively small tumors are capable of metastasizing. Merkel cell carcinoma tends to spread to the regional (nearby) lymph nodes, and may also spread to the:
  • Liver
  • Bone
  • Lungs
  • Brain.
Lymph nodes are small, bean-shaped structures that are found throughout the body that produce and store infection-fighting cells.
Treatment for Merkel cell carcinoma will depend on the:
Specific treatment for Merkel cell carcinoma may include:
  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy.

Treatment for Merkel Cell Carcinoma: Surgery

Several different types of surgery may be used as treatment for Merkel cell carcinoma. These include:
  • Wide surgical excision, which takes out the cancer and some of the skin around the tumor
  • Cryosurgery, which freezes the tumor and then removes it
  • Micrographic surgery (Mohs surgery), which is a tissue-sparing technique that removes only the tumor.

Treatment for Merkel Cell Carcinoma: Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. There are two different ways in which radiation therapy can be used as treatment for Merkel cell carcinoma. External radiation therapy produces radiation from a machine outside of the body; internal radiation therapy puts materials that produce radiation (through plastic tubes) into the area where the cancer cells are found.

Treatment for Merkel Cell Carcinoma: Chemotherapy

Treatment for Merkel cell carcinoma may also involve chemotherapy. Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. It can be taken by pill, or it can be injected into a vein or muscle. Chemotherapy is called a systemic treatment because the drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body to kill cancer cells throughout the body.
If a doctor removes all the cancer that can be seen at the time of the operation, a patient may be given chemotherapy after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells. This is called adjuvant chemotherapy.
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Merkel Cell Cancer

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