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Merkel cell carcinoma: Signs and symptoms


What are the signs and symptoms of Merkel cell carcinoma?

Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is a rare skin cancer that often looks harmless. People can mistake it for a:

  • Insect bite

  • Sore

  • Cyst

  • Stye

  • Pimple

Merkel cell carcinoma can look like a sore

This skin cancer often develops on the head or neck and can look like a sore.

Because MCC is so aggressive, finding it early can be life-saving. Key facts about this skin cancer that can help you find it early are that MCC tends to:

  • Grow quickly: It usually becomes noticeably bigger in a few weeks to months.

  • Be pink, red, or purple

  • Feel painless

  • Develop on the head or neck: While it can develop anywhere on the skin, it usually appears on skin that’s gotten lots of sun over the years, such as the head or neck.

  • Appear after 50 years of age: Research shows that 97% of people who develop this rare skin cancer are older than 501. Most people are in their 70s or 80s when diagnosed with MCC2.

While MCC tends to develop in older, fair-skinned people, young adults and those who have skin of color can get this skin cancer. Even a few children have had MCC.

In African Americans, MCC tends to develop on a leg. Younger people tend to get it on their torsos.

Pictures of Merkel cell carcinoma

To help you spot MCC, the following pictures show you diverse ways that it can appear on the skin.

A red or pink spot

Looking much like an insect bite, testing revealed that the reddish spot on this patient’s shin was actually Merkel cell carcinoma.

Reddish, slightly raised spot that looks like a sore

The reddish, scaly, and slightly raised spot on this patient’s wrist is Merkel cell carcinoma, which could easily have been mistaken for a sore.

Quickly growing spot on your skin that sometimes bleeds

Any spot on your skin that is growing, bleeding, or changing in any way could be a skin cancer.

Quickly growing, firm, dome-shaped growth

This 87-year-old man was concerned about this quickly growing, dome-shaped mass on this lower eyelid, which testing showed was a Merkel cell carcinoma.

A stye or cyst

This aggressive skin cancer can look like a rapidly growing stye or cyst. Unlike a stye or cyst, Merkel cell carcinoma often feels painless.

A growing sore

Sometimes, this aggressive skin cancer looks like a sore, so it’s important to see a dermatologist if you notice a new spot on your skin that is growing rapidly. Skin cancer can also look like a sore that heals and returns.

Any fast-growing spot or mass

While Merkel cell carcinoma often looks like a dome-shaped growth or slightly raised and scaly patch, it can appear on the skin in diverse ways, as did the Merkel cell carcinoma on this man’s head.

Red, pink, or purple spot that’s growing

While Merkel cell carcinoma usually develops on the head or neck, it can appear anywhere on the skin.

Does Merkel cell carcinoma hurt?

While MCC is often painless, it can feel sore and tender. Some people say the growth itches.

Many people who develop MCC are otherwise healthy. If you have certain risk factors, you have a greater risk of getting this skin cancer.

You’ll find out what increases the risk of developing MCC at, Merkel cell carcinoma: Causes.

1 Haley CT, Mui UN, et al. “Human Oncoviruses: Mucocutaneous Manifestations, Pathogenesis, Therapeutics, and Prevention (Part I: Papillomaviruses and Merkel cell polyomavirus).” J Am Acad Dermatol. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2018.09.062. [Epub ahead of print].

2 Coggshall K, Tello TL, et al. “Merkel cell carcinoma: An update and review Pathogenesis, diagnosis, and staging.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2018;78:433-42.


Images
Images used with permission of Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology:

Image 1: J Am Acad Dermatol. 2001; 45:309-12.
Image 3: J Am Acad Dermatol. 2015; 73:968-75.
Image 4: J Am Acad Dermatol. 2012; 66:923-7.
Image 5: J Am Acad Dermatol. 2010; 62:463-8.
Image 6: J Am Acad Dermatol. 2008; 58:375-81.
Image 7: Ibid
Image 8: J Am Acad Dermatol. 2018; 78:433-42.
Image 9: J Am Acad Dermatol.2012; 66:923-7.
Image 2: Used with permission of the American Academy of Dermatology National Library of Dermatologic Teaching Slides.

References
Coggshall K, Tello TL, et al. “Merkel cell carcinoma: An update and review Pathogenesis, diagnosis, and staging.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2018;78:433-42.

Haley CT, Mui UN, et al. “Human Oncoviruses: Mucocutaneous Manifestations, Pathogenesis, Therapeutics, and Prevention (Part I: Papillomaviruses and Merkel cell polyomavirus).” J Am Acad Dermatol. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2018.09.062. [Epub ahead of print].

Heath M, Jaimes N, et al. “Clinical characteristics of Merkel cell carcinoma at diagnosis in 195 patients: The AEIOU features.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2008;58:375-81.

Mui UN, MD, Haley CT, et al. “Human Oncoviruses: Mucocutaneous Manifestations, Pathogenesis, Therapeutics, and Prevention (Part II: Hepatitis Viruses, Human T-cell Leukemia Viruses, Herpesviruses, and Epstein-Barr Virus).” J Am Acad Dermatol. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2018.10.072. [Epub ahead of print].

Pape E, Rezvoy N, et al. “Radiotherapy alone for Merkel cell carcinoma: a comparative and retrospective study of 25 patients.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2011;65(5):983-90

Tello, TL. Coggshall K, et al. “Merkel cell carcinoma: An update and review Current and future therapy.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2018;78:445-54.

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