Merkel Cell Carcinoma
Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is a rare and aggressive skin cancer characterized by malignant cancer cells that can quickly spread from the skin to the rest of the body. MCC usually appears as a fast-growing, painless, flesh-colored, red or blue nodule on the face, head, or neck, but it can also occur in areas that are not exposed to sunlight. If you are concerned about a changing or enlarging skin lesion and would like to be evaluated, all of our providers at Skin and Laser Surgery Dermatology Center are board-certified and highly effective at screening for MCC and other skin cancers.
What is a Merkel cell?
Merkel cells are found in the outermost layer of the skin and are important for light touch sensation. As such, they are commonly found in sensitive skin areas, like fingertips, where they are connected to nerve endings that transmit feelings of sensation. Though uncommon, these cells can become malignant and form MCC.
What causes MCC?
It is unclear what exactly causes MCC, although it does begin in the epidermis (top layer of the skin). A common virus (Merkel cell polyomavirus) that lives on the skin may be involved in this process, but since the virus is common, it is likely there are other risk factors involved in the development of this cancer.
What are some of the risk factors for MCC?
Long-term sun exposure, including ultraviolet (UV) light from tanning beds, light skin color, a weakened immune system, a history of other skin cancers, biological males, and being over fifty years old can all increase the risk of developing MCC.
How commonly does MCC occur?
MCC is a rare skin cancer but diagnosed cases have been increasing over the past decade. Each year, about 2,000 cases of MCC are diagnosed in the U.S. and men are nearly twice as likely to develop it relative to women. MCC is the second most common cause of skin cancer death in the United States after melanoma but with early detection, MCC can be treated successfully.
When should I come in to be evaluated?
If you notice a freckle, mole, bump, or a “cyst” that begins to change in size or color, grow quickly, or bleed after normal washing or shaving, it is important to be evaluated by a board-certified dermatologist. MCC can be mistaken for other types of cancer or even benign cysts, which is why being seen by an expert is crucial for diagnosis.
How can I reduce my risk of developing MCC?
By reducing exposure to UV rays and sunlight, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., the risk of MCC can be lowered. Taking sun-protective measures, including wearing sunglasses, a wide brim hat, and tightly-woven clothing, are some of the most important ways to reduce sun exposure. Wearing sunscreen with SPF 30 and above, containing physical blockers like zinc oxide or titanium, also reduces the risk of developing MCC. Finally, it is important to make an appointment to be seen regularly by a board certified dermatologist to ensure early diagnosis and prevention.
Frequently Asked Questions
Skin & Laser Dermatology Center treats patients for all skin care concerns, including skin cancer surgery, cosmetic dermatology, sclerotherapy, laser peels, laser hair removal, hyperhidrosis, rosacea, and acne treatments.
Our Clients Say
My eyelid surgery results for the facial wrinkles look very natural. Very skilled dermatologic surgeon.
Dr. Bajoghli always has time for his patients, you never feel that he is rushing you and after you leave if you have any concerns he is very responsive to the point of giving out his cell phone number. I can’t say enough about him and his staff.
Nurse Rassmussen answers all of my questions, listens to my concerns, examines my skin, goes over my treatment protocol and gets me out the door quickly, but without feeling rushed, so that I can get on with the rest of my day. I have already recommended this practice to a couple of friends, and I will continue to do so with confidence.
I really appreciate the polite and professional service that Dr. Bajoghli’s practice provides in my dermatologic health. All of his staff make you feel welcome and are concerned for your care. Speaking as someone who neglected his skin care when I was young, I appreciate having a physician who is personally concerned for his patients.