Survival Rates for Merkel Cell Carcinoma, by Stage

Survival rates tell you what pecentage of people with the same type and stage of cancer are still alive a certain amount of time (usually 5 or 10 years) after they were diagnosed. They can’t tell you how long you'll live, but they might help give you a better understanding about how likely it is that your treatment will be successful.

What is a 10-year survival rate?

Statistics on the outlook for a certain type and stage of cancer may be given as 10-year survival rates, but some people live longer than that. The 10-year survival rate is the percentage of people who live at least 10 years after being diagnosed with cancer. For example, a 10-year survival rate of 70% means that about 70 out of 100 people who have that cancer are still alive 10 years after being diagnosed. But keep in mind that many of these people live much longer than 10 years after diagnosis.

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 one person’s case. There are a number of limitations to remember:

  • The numbers below are among the most current available. But to get 10-year survival rates, doctors have to look at people who were treated at least 10 years ago. Treatments have improved over time, so people who are diagnosed with Merkel cell cancer (MCC) now 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.
  • 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 (localized) 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 situation.

Survival rates for Merkel cell carcinoma

MCC is a rare cancer, so it’s hard to get accurate, up-to-date survival statistics for this disease, especially by stage. Overall, the 10-year survival rate for MCC is about 57%. 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.

The following survival rates are based on the outcomes of 3,870 patients diagnosed with MCC from 1973 to 2006 and recorded in the National Cancer Institute's data base.

  • If the tumor was diagnosed when it was only in the area of skin where it started (localized or stages I or II), the 10-year survival was 71%.
  • If it had grown into nearby tissues or lymph nodes (regional or stage III) when it was first diagnosed, the 10-year relative survival was about 49%.
  • If it had spread to distant parts of the body (stage IV) when it was first diagnosed, the 10-year relative survival was 20%.

Remember, these survival rates are only estimates – they can’t predict what will happen to any one 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 instance:

  • 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 (over age 70) has been linked with a less favorable outlook.
  • Where the tumor is on the body can also affect outlook. For example, people with tumors on their arms tend to do better than those with tumors in other areas.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
Our team is made up of doctors and master's-prepared nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Albores-Saavedra J, Batich K, Chable-Montero F, et al. Merkel cell carcinoma demographics, morphology, and survival based on 3870 cases: a population based study. J Cutan Pathol. 2010;37(1):20-27.

National Cancer Institute. Merkel Cell Carcinoma Treatment (PDQ®)–Health Professional Version. February 1, 2018. Accessed at www.cancer.gov/types/skin/hp/merkel-cell-treatment-pdq on August 10, 2018.


 

Last Medical Review: October 9, 2018 Last Revised: October 9, 2018

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