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 in this document 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 may be involved in your care as well, including physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, nutrition specialists, social workers, and other health professionals.

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

Sometimes more than one type of treatment is used.

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 do not 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 permits, 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.

The next few sections describe the types of treatments used for MCC. This is followed by a description of the most common treatment options based on the extent of the cancer.

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