Skin Cancer

Understanding Merkel Cell Carcinoma (MCC): A Rare but Aggressive Skin Cancer


Merkel Cell Carcinoma (MCC) is a rare and aggressive type of skin cancer that develops in the Merkel cells, which are found in the top layer of the skin. Despite its rarity, MCC is known for its rapid growth and potential to spread to other parts of the body. In this blog post, we will explore the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment options, and prognosis associated with Merkel Cell Carcinoma.

What is Merkel Cell Carcinoma?

Merkel Cell Carcinoma is a type of neuroendocrine tumor that originates in the Merkel cells, which are responsible for the sense of touch. While the exact cause of MCC is not fully understood, it is believed to be associated with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and infection with the Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCV). MCC typically presents as a painless, firm, and rapidly growing nodule or lump on the skin.

Risk Factors for Merkel Cell Carcinoma

Several factors may increase the risk of developing Merkel Cell Carcinoma, including:

Sun exposure: Prolonged exposure to UV radiation from the sun or tanning beds.

Age: MCC is more common in older adults, particularly those over the age of 50.

Immune suppression: Individuals with weakened immune systems, such as organ transplant recipients or those living with HIV/AIDS, are at higher risk.

History of skin cancer: Previous diagnosis of skin cancer, including melanoma or basal cell carcinoma.

Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCV) infection: Infection with MCV has been implicated in the development of MCC in some cases.

Symptoms of Merkel Cell Carcinoma

The symptoms of Merkel Cell Carcinoma may vary depending on the location and stage of the cancer. Common signs and symptoms include:

Firm, painless nodules or lumps on the skin: Typically red, purple, or skin-colored.

Rapid growth: MCC lesions may quickly increase in size over a matter of weeks or months.

Ulceration or bleeding: As the tumor grows, it may break through the skin, leading to open sores or bleeding.

Regional lymphadenopathy: Swollen lymph nodes near the site of the primary tumor.

Diagnosis of Merkel Cell Carcinoma

Diagnosing Merkel Cell Carcinoma often involves a combination of clinical evaluation, imaging studies, and tissue biopsy. The following steps may be involved in the diagnostic process:

Clinical examination: A dermatologist or oncologist evaluates the skin lesions and any associated symptoms.

Imaging tests: Imaging studies such as ultrasound, CT scan, or PET scan may be performed to assess the extent of the disease and identify any metastases.

Skin biopsy: A sample of tissue from the suspected lesion is collected and examined under a microscope to confirm the diagnosis of MCC.

Immunohistochemistry: Special stains are used to identify specific markers associated with Merkel Cell Carcinoma, such as cytokeratin 20 (CK20) and neurofilament protein (NSE).

Treatment Options for Merkel Cell Carcinoma

Treatment for Merkel Cell Carcinoma depends on various factors, including the stage of the cancer, the patient’s overall health, and personal preferences. Treatment options may include:

Surgery: Surgical excision of the primary tumor and nearby lymph nodes, followed by reconstructive surgery if necessary.

Radiation therapy: High-energy beams of radiation are used to target and destroy cancer cells.

Immunotherapy: Drugs that boost the body’s immune response to target and eliminate cancer cells.

Chemotherapy: Systemic medications that kill rapidly dividing cancer cells, particularly in cases of advanced or metastatic MCC.

Targeted therapy: Drugs that specifically target cancer cells with certain genetic mutations or biomarkers.

Prognosis and Survival Rate

The prognosis for Merkel Cell Carcinoma depends on various factors, including the stage of the cancer, the presence of metastases, and the patient’s overall health. Early detection and treatment can improve outcomes, but MCC has a relatively high recurrence rate and a propensity for metastasis. Overall survival rates for MCC vary but are generally lower than those for other types of skin cancer.

Coping and Support

Receiving a diagnosis of Merkel Cell Carcinoma can be overwhelming, but there are resources and support networks available to help patients and their families cope with the challenges of the disease. Some coping strategies and support options include:

Educating oneself: Learning about Merkel Cell Carcinoma, treatment options, and potential side effects can empower patients to make informed decisions about their care.

Seeking support: Connecting with other individuals living with MCC through support groups, online forums, or counselling services can provide valuable emotional support and practical advice.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle: Eating a balanced diet, staying physically active, practising stress-reduction techniques, and getting adequate rest can help support overall well-being during treatment and recovery.


In conclusion, Merkel Cell Carcinoma is a rare but aggressive type of skin cancer that requires prompt diagnosis and appropriate treatment. By understanding the risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment options, and prognosis associated with MCC, patients and healthcare providers can work together to develop personalized care plans and improve outcomes.