Skin Cancer: Merkel Cell Carcinoma

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Treating Skin Cancer - Merkel Cell TOPICS

How are Merkel cell carcinomas treated?

This information represents the views of the doctors and nurses serving on the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Information Database Editorial Board. These views are based on their interpretation of studies published in medical journals, as well as their own professional experience.
The treatment information given here is not official policy of the Society and is not intended as medical advice to replace the expertise and judgment of your cancer care team. It is intended to help you and your family make informed decisions, together with your doctor.
Your doctor may have reasons for suggesting a treatment plan different from these general treatment options. Don’t hesitate to ask him or her questions about your treatment options.

General treatment information

Once Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) has been diagnosed and staged, your cancer care team will discuss your treatment options with you. Depending on your situation, you may have different types of doctors on your treatment team. These doctors may include:

  • A dermatologist: a doctor who treats diseases of the skin
  • A surgical oncologist (or oncologic surgeon): a doctor who uses surgery to treat cancer
  • A medical oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with medicines such as chemotherapy
  • A radiation oncologist: a doctor who treats cancer with radiation therapy

Many other specialists might be part of your treatment team as well, including physician assistants (PAs), nurse practitioners (NPs), nurses, nutrition specialists, social workers, and other health professionals. To learn more about who may be on your cancer care team, see Health Professionals Associated With Cancer Care.

Based on the stage of the cancer and other factors, your treatment options may include:

Sometimes more than one type of treatment is used. Your treatment options will be based on the stage (extent) of the cancer, as well as other factors such as your overall health and personal preferences.

It’s important to discuss all of your treatment options as well as their possible side effects with your treatment team to help make the decision that best fits your needs. If there is anything you don’t understand, ask to have it explained. (See the section “What should you ask your doctor about Merkel cell carcinoma?” for some questions to ask.)

MCC is not common, so most doctors are unlikely to have seen or treated many cases. Even at major medical centers, where doctors are more likely to have experience with MCC, not all doctors agree on the best way to treat these cancers. If time allows, getting a second opinion from a team of experts is often a good idea. It can give you more information and help you feel good about the treatment plan that you choose.

Last Medical Review: 04/13/2015
Last Revised: 04/27/2015