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Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays (like x-rays) or particles (such as electrons) to kill cancer cells. The radiation is focused from outside the body onto the tumor.
Not all doctors agree on exactly when radiation therapy should be used for Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC), but it works very well for MCC. It might be used in these situations:
When used to treat MCC, radiation is usually given 5 days a week for many weeks. The length of treatment might be shorter if the radiation is being used to relieve symptoms caused by cancer spread.
Before treatments start, your radiation team will take careful measurements to decide the proper dose of radiation and know exactly where to aim the radiation beams. This planning session is called simulation.
Getting radiation treatment is a lot like getting an x-ray, but the radiation is stronger and aimed precisely at the cancer. The treatments don't hurt. Each one lasts only a few minutes, though the set-up time – getting you into place for treatment – takes longer.
Common side effects depend on where the radiation is aimed and can include:
These often get worse as treatment goes on and slowly go away after treatment ends.
Radiation therapy can also raise the risk of getting another type of cancer in the treated area. If this happens, it’s usually many years after treatment.
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
Cestaro G, Quarto G, DE Monti M, et al. New and emerging treatments for metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma. Panminerva Med. 2018;60(1):39-40.
National Cancer Institute. Merkel Cell Carcinoma Treatment (PDQ®)–Patient Version. May 2, 2018. Accessed at www.cancer.gov/types/skin/patient/merkel-cell-treatment-pdq on August 15, 2018.
National Comprehensive Cancer Network, Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology (NCCN Guidelines®), Merkel Cell Carcinoma, Version 2.2018 -- June 15, 2018. Accessed at www.nccn.org/professionals/physician_gls/pdf/mcc.pdf on August 15, 2018.
Patel P, Modi C, McLellan B, Ohri N. Radiotherapy for inoperable Merkel cell carcinoma: a systematic review and pooled analysis. Dermatol Pract Concept. 2018;8(2):149-157.
Tetzlaff MT, Nagarajan P. Update on Merkel Cell Carcinoma. Head Neck Pathol. 2018;12(1):31-43.
Last Revised: October 9, 2018