My Skin Centre

What is Merkel Cell Carcinoma?

Merkel Cell Carcinoma is not a cancer we hear about often, and this is because it is less common than other types of skin cancer. Despite this, Merkel Cell Carcinoma can be extremely dangerous when left untreated. The reason it is so threatening is because it has the ability to spread to other parts of the body. Merkel Cell Carcinoma can be difficult to treat.

About Merkel Cells

Merkel cells are cells which are found in the skin, they are usually in the epidermis which is near the outside of the body. Their role is to act as touch receptors to assist in light touch sensations.

When Merkel Cell Carcinoma occurs it most commonly appears on the top of the skin, but it can potentially present itself anywhere in the body. These aggressive tumours are caused when the merkel cells grow too rapidly. Another name for the disease is neuroendocrine carcinoma of the skin.

What Merkel Cell Carcinoma Looks Like

Although this type of skin cancer is rare, it is most likely to be found on the arms, neck, head or face. The appearance can vary but they will often feel firm to touch. Look for pink, purple or blue and red lumps which may even resemble an ulcer. Sometimes there may be bleeding but when you have Merkel Cell Carcinoma it generally won’t cause you any pain. They do grow quickly and due to a tendency to spread, urgent treatment will be required for the best outcome. As they begin to spread, new lumps can appear and any lymph nodes can be affected. Diagnosis can be tricky as it can be hard to differentiate between this and other types of skin cancer. A biopsy is the best way to confirm the diagnosis.

Merkel cell carcinoma is more prevalent in people over 65, or those with weak immune systems. Prolonged sun exposure can also increase the risk.

Treatment Options

Just like other more common types of skin cancer, early diagnosis and treatment is the key to stopping it in its tracks. As Merkel Cell Carcinoma often affects the lymph nodes, the first positive biopsy should be followed by a sentinel lymph node biopsy. Once the stage of cancer is determined, the next course of action can be taken. Surgery is a common strategy used to treat skin cancer, and may be combined with other treatment options. Radiation therapy can be used for the surrounding areas after surgery has been performed, as well as in the lymph nodes. It can also reduce the size of cancer. If the skin cancer has spread to other organs in the body, chemotherapy may be recommended.

Contact Us for a Skin Check

If you notice something unusual on your skin, it is important to have a skin check. This will give you peace of mind, and if there is a problem it can be treated quickly. My Skin Centre has 9 convenient locations throughout the Perth region, and our experienced team can offer you a full body skin assessment. If you would like to book an appointment, please contact us today.