Skin Cancer: Merkel Cell Carcinoma

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Talking With Your Doctor TOPICS

What should you ask your cancer care team about Merkel cell carcinoma?

It’s important to have honest, open discussions with your doctor. You should feel comfortable asking any question, no matter how small it might seem. Here are some questions you might want to ask:

When you’re told you have Merkel cell carcinoma

  • How sure are you about my diagnosis of Merkel cell carcinoma?
  • Has the cancer spread beneath the skin? Has it spread to lymph nodes or other organs?
  • Do I need a sentinel lymph node biopsy to look for cancer in the lymph nodes?
  • Will I need any other tests before we can decide on treatment?
  • Do I need to see any other types of doctors?
  • If I’m concerned about the costs and insurance coverage for my diagnosis and treatment, who can help me?

When deciding on a treatment plan

  • How much experience do you have treating this type of cancer?
  • What are my treatment options? What do you recommend? Why?
  • Should I get a second opinion? Can you recommend a doctor or cancer center?
  • What’s the goal of treatment?
  • How quickly do we need to decide on treatment?
  • What should I do to be ready for treatment?
  • How long will treatment last? What will it be like? Where will it be done?
  • What risks or side effects I should expect? How long are they likely to last?
  • Will I have a scar after treatment?
  • How might treatment affect my daily activities?
  • What are the chances of my cancer growing or coming back with the treatment options we have discussed? What would we do if that happens?
  • What type of follow-up will I need after treatment?

During treatment

Once treatment begins, you’ll need to know what to expect and what to look for. Not all of these questions may apply to you, but getting answers to the ones that do may be helpful.

  • How will we know if the treatment is working?
  • Is there anything I can do to help manage side effects?
  • What symptoms or side effects should I tell you about right away?
  • How can I reach you on nights, holidays, or weekends?
  • Are there any limits on what I can do?
  • Can you suggest a mental health professional I can see if I start to feel overwhelmed, depressed, or distressed?

After treatment

  • What symptoms should I watch for?
  • What are the chances of my cancer coming back?
  • What are my chances of developing another skin cancer?
  • Should I take special precautions to avoid the sun?
  • What type of follow-up will I need after treatment?
  • How will we know if the cancer has come back? What would my options be if that happens?
  • Are my family members at risk for skin cancer? What should I tell them to do?

Along with these sample questions, be sure to write down some of your own. For instance, you might want more information about recovery times so you can plan your work or activity schedule. Or you may want to ask about clinical trials for which you may qualify.

Keep in mind that your doctor isn’t the only one who can give you information. Other health care professionals, such as nurses and social workers, may have the answers to some of your questions. You can find more information about speaking with your health care team in our document Talking With Your Doctor.


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