Skin Cancer: Merkel Cell Carcinoma

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Early Detection, Diagnosis, and Staging TOPICS

Survival rates for Merkel cell carcinoma, by stage

Survival rates tell you what portion of people with the same type and stage of cancer are still alive a certain amount of time (usually 5 years) after they were diagnosed. They can’t tell you how long you will live, but they may help give you a better understanding about how likely it is that your treatment will be successful. Some people will want to know the survival rates for their cancer, and some people won’t. If you don’t want to know, you don’t have to.

What is a 5-year survival rate?

Statistics on the outlook for a certain type and stage of cancer are often given as 5-year survival rates, but many people live longer – often much longer. The 5-year survival rate is the percentage of people who live at least 5 years after being diagnosed with cancer. For example, a 5-year survival rate of 70% means that an estimated 70 out of 100 people who have that cancer are still alive 5 years after being diagnosed. Keep in mind, however, that many of these people live much longer than 5 years after diagnosis.

Relative survival rates are a more accurate way to estimate the effect of cancer on survival. These rates compare people with Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) to people in the overall population. For example, if the 5-year relative survival rate for a specific stage of MCC is 60%, it means that people who have that stage of cancer are, on average, about 60% as likely as people who don’t have that cancer to live for at least 5 years after being diagnosed.

But remember, all survival rates are estimates – your outlook can vary based on a number of factors specific to you.

Cancer survival rates don’t tell the whole story

Survival rates are often based on previous outcomes of large numbers of people who had the disease, but they can’t predict what will happen in any particular person’s case. There are a number of limitations to remember:

  • The numbers below are among the most current available. But to get 5-year survival rates, doctors have to look at people who were treated at least 5 years ago. As treatments are improving over time, people who are now being diagnosed with MCC may have a better outlook than these statistics show.
  • These statistics are based on the stage of the cancer when it was first diagnosed. They do not apply to cancers that later come back or spread, for example.
  • The outlook for people with MCC varies by the stage (extent) of the cancer .In general, the survival rates are higher for people with earlier stage cancers. But many other factors can affect a person’s outlook, such as a person’s age and overall health, and how well the cancer responds to treatment. The outlook for each person is specific to their circumstances.

Your doctor can tell you how these numbers may apply to you, as he or she is familiar with your particular situation.

Survival rates for Merkel cell carcinoma

MCC is an uncommon type of cancer, so it’s hard to get accurate, up-to-date survival statistics for this disease, especially by individual stages. Overall, the 5-year survival rate for MCC is about 60%. It’s much higher if the cancer is found early as opposed to having spread to the lymph nodes or distant parts of the body.

Survival rates by stage

The following survival rates are based on the outcomes of nearly 3,000 patients diagnosed with MCC from 1986 to 2000 and recorded in the National Cancer Data Base.

Stage IA: The 5-year relative survival rate is about 80%.

Stage IB: The 5-year relative survival rate is about 60%.

Stage IIA: The 5-year relative survival rate is about 60%.

Stage IIB: The 5-year relative survival rate is about 50%.

Stage IIC: The 5-year relative survival rate is about 50%.

Stage IIIA: The 5-year relative survival rate is about 45%.

Stage IIIB: The 5-year relative survival rate is about 25%.

Stage IV: The 5-year relative survival rate is about 20%.

Remember, these survival rates are only estimates – they can’t predict what will happen to any individual person. We understand that these statistics can be confusing and may lead you to have more questions. Talk to your doctor to better understand your specific situation.

Other factors affecting survival

Factors other than stage can also affect survival. For example:

  • People who have weakened immune systems, such as those who have had organ transplants or who are infected with HIV, tend to have a worse outlook.
  • Older age has been linked with a less favorable outlook.
  • Where the tumor is on the body can also affect outlook. For example, tumors on the arms tend to have a better outlook than tumors in other areas.

Last Medical Review: 04/13/2015
Last Revised: 05/23/2016