Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare type of skin cancer that usually appears as a flesh-colored or bluish-red nodule, often on your face, head or neck. Merkel cell carcinoma is also called neuroendocrine carcinoma of the skin.
Merkel cell carcinoma most often develops in older people. Long-term sun exposure or a weak immune system may increase your risk of developing this malignant skin cancer.
Merkel cell carcinoma tends to grow fast and spread quickly to other parts of your body. Treatment options for malignant skin cancer often depend on whether the cancer has spread beyond the skin
It’s not clear what causes neuroendocrine carcinoma but it begins in the Merkel cells. Merkel cells are found at the base of the outermost layer of your skin (epidermis) andare connected to the nerve endings in the skin that are responsible for the sense of touch.
There are several different kinds of skin cancer and except for melanoma, most of them are easily treatable and benign. While the less invasive types, including squamous and basal cell carcinoma, do not pose an immediate health threat, they are skin conditions that must receive prompt medical attention once they’ve been detected. Benign skin cancers do grow and at a certain size, they can endanger lymph nodes.
Benign skin cancers such as squamous cell carcinoma typically develop due to overexposure to the sun and appear on parts of the body such as the nose, forehead, lower lip, ears, and hands. Other factors that increase the risk of squamous cell carcinoma include exposure to chemicals or radiation therapy or skin with sustained burns.
You increase the chance for early detection for squamous cell carcinoma if you make a habit of checking your skin for any suspicious changes. If you notice a blemish on your skin that causes you concern, you must have a qualified oncologist examine you to determine if you require treatment. Even for benign cancers, you need a specialist like Dr. Daniel C. Allison who has extensive experience with different types of carcinomas, including malignant and benign skin cancers. At his practice in Los Angeles, Dr. Allison has broad experience in developing optimum treatment options for patients with skin cancer and other malignancies.Contact Us
Know The Symptoms & Risk Factors
The first sign of Merkel cell carcinoma is usually a fast-growing, painless nodule (tumor) on your skin. The nodule may be skin colored or may appear in shades of red, blue or purple. Most malignant skin cancer appear on the face, head or neck, but they can develop anywhere on your body, even on areas not exposed to sunlight.
When to See a Doctor
If you notice a mole, freckle or bump that is changing in size, shape or color, growing rapidly or bleeding easily after minor trauma, such as washing your skin or shaving, make an appointment with your doctor.
Factors that may increase your risk of Merkel cell carcinoma include:
- Excessive exposure to natural or artificial sunlight. Being exposed to ultraviolet light, such as the light that comes from the sun or from tanning beds, increases your risk of malignant skin cancer. The majority of neuroendocrine carcinoma appear on skin surfaces that are frequently exposed to sun.
- A weakened immune system. People with weakened immune systems — including those with HIV or those taking drugs that suppress the immune response — are more likely to develop Merkel cell carcinoma.
- History of other skin cancers. neuroendocrine carcinoma is associated with the development of other skin cancers, such as basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma.
- Old age. Your risk of neuroendocrine carcinoma increases as you age. This cancer is most common in people older than age 50, though it can occur at any age.
- Light skin color. neuroendocrine carcinoma usually arises in people who have light-colored skin. Caucasians are much more likely to be affected by this skin cancer than other ethnicities.
Even with treatment, Merkel cell carcinoma commonly spreads (metastasizes) beyond the skin. malignant skin cancer tends to travel first to nearby lymph nodes. Later, it may spread to the brain, bones, liver or lungs, where it can interfere with the functioning of these organs. Cancer that has metastasized is more difficult to treat and can be fatal.
While these symptoms could indicate skin cancer, you need a confirmed diagnosis from a cancer expert. The benefit to you by consulting with a specialist like Dr. Allison is the assurance of an experienced and talented oncologist who knows the most effective treatment solutions personalized to your needs.
Reduce Risk of Skin Cancer
While exposure to sunlight isn’t proven to cause malignant skin cancer, it is considered a risk factor. Reducing your sun exposure may reduce your risk of skin cancer. Try to:
- Avoid the sun during peak hours. Avoid sun exposure as much as possible during the strongest sunlight hours of the day — typically from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Move your outdoor activities to a time earlier in the morning or later in the day.
- Shield your skin and eyes. Wear a wide-brimmed hat, tightly woven clothing and sunglasses with ultraviolet light (UV) protection.
- Apply sunscreen liberally and often. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15. Apply sunscreen generously, and reapply every two hours — or more often if you’re swimming or perspiring.
- Watch for changes. If you notice a mole, freckle or bump that’s changing in size, shape or color, talk to your doctor. Most skin nodules never become cancer, but catching cancer in its early stages increases the chances that treatment will be successful.
Usually squamous cell carcinoma is confirmed with a biopsy. Some of the skin lesion is examined and the tissue sent to a pathologist for analysis. Once the results are confirmed, you and your doctor can discuss your treatment plan.
Prompt Treatment Is Best
Your doctor may use the following tests to help determine whether the cancer has spread beyond your skin:
- Sentinel node biopsy. A sentinel node biopsy is a procedure to determine whether cancer has spread to your lymph nodes. This procedure involves injecting a dye near the cancer. The dye then flows through the lymphatic system to your lymph nodes.
The first lymph node that receives the dye is called the sentinel node. Your doctor removes this lymph node and looks for cancerous cells under a microscope.
- Imaging tests. Your doctor may recommend a chest X-ray and a CT scan of your chest and abdomen to help determine whether the cancer has spread to other organs.
Your doctor may also consider other imaging tests such as a positron emission tomography (PET) scan or an octreotide scan – a test that uses an injection of a radioactive tracer to check for the spread of cancer cells.
Dr. Allison has his skin cancer patients schedule regular checkups so he can monitor them for signs of recurrence. There is a possibility of skin cancer reappearing for individuals who have been successfuly treated, but avoiding sun exposure can help minimizing the risk.
Learn more about Merkel Cell Carcinoma from cancer.gov.
Contact The Skin Cancer Expert At Our Office In Los Angeles
Dr. Daniel C. Allison is a renowned orthopedic oncologist in Los Angeles who has extensive expertise in diagnosing and treating various cancers including squamous cell and melanoma. He understands the complexities of cancer and is the ideal physician for providing you with a personalized treatment plan. Call today for a personal consultation at 310.683-4586 and learn how we can help you.Contact Us Today!
Next, learn about melanomas.