Merkel cell carcinoma: Overview
Merkel cell carcinoma
What is Merkel cell carcinoma?
A rare skin cancer, Merkel cell carcinoma is often called “aggressive” because it:
- Has a tendency to spread from the skin to another part of the body
- Can return after treatment
Is it contagious? No
What is Merkel cell carcinoma?
Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is a rare skin cancer. Cancer records show that doctors diagnosed about 2,000 MCCs in the United States during 2018.1
While MCC is rare, the cancer records also indicate that more people are developing this skin cancer than ever before. Between 2000-2013, the number of MCCs that doctors diagnosed increased by 95%.2 This increase is expected to continue.
Dermatologists believe that more Americans are developing (and will develop) MCC than ever before because:
A growing number of people in the United States are now 65 years of age or older, and this number is expected to rise.
Many people who are 65 or older seldom protected their skin from the sun.
Research shows that nearly everyone who develops MCC is 50 years of age or older. Most of them also have fair skin and seldom protected their skin from the sun.
More Americans are developing Merkel cell carcinoma
You are more likely to develop this skin cancer if you are over 50, have fair skin, and seldom protected your skin from the sun with sunscreen, shade, or sun-protective clothing.
Because MCC is rare and can be aggressive, anyone who is diagnosed with this skin cancer should be under the care of a team of medical doctors that has experience treating it. This team may include a board-certified dermatologist and doctors who treat cancer, such as a surgical oncologist, radiation oncologist, and surgical oncologist.
Research indicates that when doctors have experience treating MCC, patients are more likely to:
Get treatment tailored to their needs
Have access to the latest treatment advances for MCC
Find a specialist at merkelcell.org
While research advances are helping people with MCC live longer, those who are diagnosed in its earliest stage have the best outcomes. It’s possible to find this cancer early because it begins on the skin.
You’ll find pictures of what MCC can look like, along with possible warning signs at, Merkel cell carcinoma: Signs and symptoms.
1 American Cancer Society. “Key statistics for Merkel cell carcinoma.” Page last updated October 2018. Last accessed February 2019.
2 Paulson KG, Park SY, et al. “Merkel cell carcinoma: Current US incidence and projected increases based on changing demographics.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2018;78:457-63.
American Cancer Society. “Key statistics for Merkel cell carcinoma.” Page last updated October 2018. Last accessed February 2019.
Paulson KG, Park SY, et al. “Merkel cell carcinoma: Current US incidence and projected increases based on changing demographics.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2018;78:457-63.
Lara KM, In GK. et al. “Talimogene laherparepvec in combination with pembrolizumab leads to a complete response in a patient with refractory Merkel cell carcinoma.” JAAD Case Rep. 2018;4:1004-6.
Pedersen SA, Johannesdottir Schmidt SA, et al. “Hydrochlorothiazide use and risk for Merkel cell carcinoma and malignant adnexal skin tumors: A nationwide case-control study.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2019;80:460-5.e9.