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Can Merkel Cell Carcinoma Be Prevented?

Your risk of getting Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is low, and some risk factors for MCC, such as your age, sex, and skin color can’t be controlled. Still, there are things you can do that might help lower your risk. These might also lower your risk of getting more common types of skin cancer, as well as some other types of cancer.

Limit your exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays

The most important way to lower your risk of skin cancers (including MCC) is to limit your exposure to UV rays. Practice sun safety when you are outdoors.

Seek shade

Simply staying in the shade is one of the best ways to limit your UV exposure.

“Slip! Slop! Slap! ®… and Wrap”

This catchphrase can help you remember some of the key steps you can take to protect yourself from UV rays. If you're going to be in the sun:

  • Slip on a shirt.
  • Slop on sunscreen.
  • Slap on a hat.
  • Wrap on sunglasses to protect your eyes and the sensitive skin around them.

Don't use tanning beds or sunlamps

Many people believe the UV rays of tanning beds are harmless. This is not true. Tanning lamps give off UV rays, which can cause long-term skin damage and can contribute to skin cancer. Most skin doctors and health organizations recommend not using tanning beds and sun lamps.

Protect children from the sun

Children need special care, since they tend to spend more time outdoors and can burn more easily. Parents and other caregivers should protect children from excess sun exposure by using the steps above. Children need to be taught about the dangers of too much sun exposure as they become more independent.

Learn more about protecting yourself in the sun

For more on how to protect yourself and your family, see Be Safe in the Sun.

Keep your immune system strong

Having a weakened immune system greatly increases the risk of getting MCC, as well as other types of skin cancer. In some cases, such as organ transplant, you can't control the things that must be done that weaken (suppress) your immune system. But something you can control is being infected with HIV.

Infection with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, weakens the immune system. Avoiding known risk factors for HIV infection, such as intravenous (IV) drug use and having unprotected sex with many partners, can also lower your risk of immune system problems. This, in turn, might help keep you from getting MCC and many other types of cancer. To learn more, see HIV Infection, AIDS, and Cancer.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as editors and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Clarke CA, Robbins HA, Tatalovich Z, et al. Risk of Merkel cell carcinoma after solid organ transplantation. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2015;107(2):1-9. Seattle Multidisciplinary MCC Team, University of Washington MCC Research, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance/Skin Cancer. What immune problems make beating MCC more difficult? Accessed at on July 23, 2018.

Last Revised: October 9, 2018

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