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Merkel Cell Cancer

Screening and Diagnosis | Personalized Treatment | Research and Clinical Trials | Additional Patient Support

Merkel cell cancer, also referred to as Merkel cell carcinoma, is the least common form of skin cancer, with approximately 1,500 new cases being diagnosed per year according to the American Cancer Society. This form of skin cancer, often caused by or associated with a virus in the family of “polyomavirus”, is the most dangerous, as it is known to grow quickly, and has a high probability of spreading to areas beyond the skin, including the lymph nodes.

Merkel cells are within the epidermis; risk factors for this type of skin cancer include constant unprotected exposure to the sun, increased age and a weakened immune system.

Merkel Cell Cancer Screening and Diagnosis

The best screening for skin cancer is a self-exam of your skin, coupled with an exam by a dermatologist when there are new findings or changes, or when a skin exam is difficult due to a lot of moles. Merkel cell usually appears as a single raised lump, either flesh-colored or reddish blue. Any signs or symptoms should be discussed with your physician. Merkel cell cancer can appear on or under the skin anywhere on the body, and can appear benign; to diagnose, a specialist will need to take a biopsy.

Personalized Merkel Cell Cancer Treatment

Every other week, our care team meets in a multidisciplinary conference to discuss each patient’s case in detail and to design a personalized treatment plan. For Merkel cell cancer, your team may include your medical oncologist, dermatologist, surgeon, radiation oncologist, oncology nurse, pathologist, nutritionist and pharmacist all focused on you.

Merkel cell cancer has a high risk of spreading.  For early stage cancer, treatment involves surgery to remove the tumor and cancerous tissue, and often radiation treatments. Upon determination that the cancer hasn’t spread, a patient will follow up with their personalized care team to monitor their symptoms post-surgery.

In cases of later stages of Merkel cell cancer, if determined the disease has spread to other parts of the body such as the lymph nodes (identified via biopsy), surgery may be supplemented with chemotherapy or radiation therapy targeting the tumors. NorthShore also offers innovative immunotherapy treatment, using medications which allow a patient’s immune system to fight back against the cancer cells.

After treatment, your cancer care team will monitor your progress and address any forthcoming symptoms. This includes bi-annual skin exams with your dermatologist, as well as oncology appointments to monitor the lymph nodes and any additional symptoms.

Research and Clinical Trials

For patients diagnosed with Merkel cell cancer, a vital research enterprise allows Kellogg Cancer Center patients access to the latest drugs and skin cancer treatment options, as well as a wide array of clinical trials.

Additional Patient Support

Kellogg Cancer Center’s unique services and resources assist patients and family members with a variety of challenges they may face from Merkel cell cancer diagnosis, treatment and beyond. A wide array of support services are available to patients that include our integrative medicine servicesfinancial advocacy and survivorship, to name a few.

For More Information

For more information about Merkel cell cancer or to schedule an appointment with one of our oncologists, please call 847.570.2112.