Skin Cancer: Merkel Cell Carcinoma

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Early Detection, Diagnosis, and Staging TOPICS

Signs and symptoms of Merkel cell carcinoma

Merkel cell carcinomas usually start on areas of skin exposed to the sun, especially the face, neck, arms, and legs, but they can occur anywhere on the body. They often first appear as a single pink, red, or purple bump that is not usually painful. Sometimes the skin on the top of the tumor might break open and bleed.

These tumors can grow quickly. They might spread as new lumps in the surrounding skin. They might also reach nearby lymph nodes (small collections of immune system cells throughout the body). If left alone long enough, the lymph nodes might grow larger. This can sometimes be seen or felt as lumps under the skin (usually in the neck or under the arm).

Merkel cell carcinoma is not common, and it can look like many other, more common types of skin cancer or other skin problems when it first appears. Because of this, doctors do not usually suspect Merkel cell carcinoma at first, and the diagnosis is often made only after the tumor is biopsied.

It’s very important to have any new, growing, or changing lumps, bumps, or spots on your skin checked by a doctor as soon as possible so that the cause can be found and treated, if needed. The earlier skin cancer is found, the more likely it can be treated effectively.


Last Medical Review: 12/31/2013
Last Revised: 12/31/2013