Merkel Cell Carcinoma



Merkel cell carcinoma is a type of skin cancer that develops from neuroendocrine cells (hormone-producing cells that resemble nerve cells) in the skin. Merkel cell carcinomas are usually red-purple nodules or ulcers (sores) found in the face, arms, or legs. Merkel cell carcinomas often recur after treatment and spread to nearby lymph nodes. They can also spread to internal organs.

If you are diagnosed with Merkel cell carcinoma, The Cancer Center features:

  • board-certified dermatologists and surgeons skilled in Mohs surgery, laser surgery, cryosurgery, and other surgical options
  • clinical research studies that are investigating new treatments for skin cancer
  • a full range of support services


Risk Factors

Exposure to ultraviolet radiation present in sunlight and artificial sources such as tanning booths and sun lamps puts you at risk for all types of skin cancer, including Merkel cell carcinoma. Other risk factors include:
  • fair skin (The rate of skin cancer is 10 times higher for Caucasians than dark-skinned African-Americans.)
  • being male
  • chemical exposure (especially arsenic)
  • long-term or severe skin inflammation or injury
  • treatment for psoriasis
  • a weakened immune system



Merkel cell carcinomas appear as red-purple nodules or ulcers (sores) on the face, arms, or legs. Visit your dermatologist for an examination of your skin if you notice any of the following symptoms of skin cancer:
  • any change on the skin, especially in the size or color of a mole or other darkly pigmented growth or spot
  • scaliness, oozing, bleeding, or a change in the appearance of a bump or nodule
  • the spread of pigmentation beyond its border
  • a change in sensation, itchiness, tenderness, or pain


Treatment Services

The primary treatment is usually either wide excision (surgical removal after a biopsy) or a highly specialized technique called Mohs surgery. Mohs surgery must be performed by a trained surgeon or dermatologist, who removes a layer of skin and then maps the cancer's location. After the sample is checked, more skin is removed if the tissue is malignant. The physician continues to remove more skin and examine it until no more cancerous cells are found. Mohs surgery creates a better appearance after surgery.