Merkel cell carcinoma is a very rare type of skin cancer. Merkel cells are located in the top layer of skin and near to nerve endings. They can affect nerves that receive the sensation of touch. Merkel cells are found in the layer of basal cells at the deepest part of the epidermis and acts as connectors for nerves.

This disease is also known as neuroendocrine carcinoma of the skin or trabecular cancer. In this disease Merkel cells grow out of control. It usually affects sun exposed area of skin, especially the head, neck, arms, legs and trunk. It is quickly growing skin cancer and spreads to surrounding tissues and lymph nodes at a fast pace. It may also affect other parts of body including lungs, bones and brain.

Risk Factors of Merkel Cell Carcinoma

There are many factors, which could elevate the risk of developing Merkel Cell Carcinoma. People with risk factors are more prone to this disease. People having any of the risk factors should consult their doctor and go for regular check-ups. Risk factors for Merkel cell carcinoma are listed below.

  • Exposure to sunlight for longer periods, increases risk of this disease.
  • Exposure to ultraviolet rays in tanning booths, sun lamps or artificial sunlight also increases risk of this disease.
  • Psoriasis treatments such as ultraviolet A or PUVA therapy also increases risk of this disease.
  • People with weak immune system due to certain diseases including Leukaemia or HIV are more prone to develop this disease.
  • Drugs used after organ transplant also weaken immune system leading to elevated risk of Merkel Cell Carcinoma.
  • People who have suffered other types of cancer are at higher risk of developing this disease.
  • People older than 50 years are at higher risk of this disease.
  • Male are more prone to this disease compared to female.
  • People with white skin are more prone to this disease compared to people with black skin

Appearance or Signs of Merkel Cell Carcinoma

It is usually a single painless lump that grows very fast. It develops on the sun-exposed skin. The basic identification of Merkel Cell Carcinoma is a firm lump, raised and shaped like dome. It may be red or violet in color.

Diagnosis

There are many tests to diagnose Merkel Cell Carcinoma. Doctors use some tests to find out the presence of this disease and some tests to find out the extent of its spread.

Physical Examination: 

It is the first step in diagnosis of Merkel Cell Carcinoma. Doctors may check the patient for sign and symptoms of this disease. They may check patient for lumps or any unusual growths. They also take record of patient’s medical history and habits. If any lump or unusual growth is found, doctors may go for full body skin examination. For this they look for bumps or abnormal spots. These spots may have abnormal size, shape, color or texture. Lymph nodes are also checked. If doctor suspects Merkel Cell Carcinoma, he may ask for a biopsy.

Biopsy: 

For biopsy a little amount of cells or tissues are removed from affected area and checked under microscope for presence of cancerous cells.

Treatment of Merkel Cell Carcinoma

Doctors decide the best treatment option based on depth of the tumor, size and spread of the disease, location of the disease, type of the disease, whether it is recurring and patient’s age and physical health. Based on these facts doctor may choose surgery, radiation, chemotherapy or other methods of treatment or a combination of more than one method of treatment.

Read on other Types Of Cancer