Merkel cell carcinoma is a form of skin cancer that is quite rare, occurring just below the skin or more often in the hair follicles. It is more common amongst people over sixty or people who have had organ transplants. The consensus is that because of the drugs that become necessary to take in order to suppress the immune system, so that the transplanted organ will not be rejected, this cancer is able to get a foothold. It is a fast spreading cancer and so needs to be caught early to have a good outcome.
The appearance of Merkel cell carcinoma is to some extent different than other skin cancers. This form expresses in nodules, or tumors, that are shiny and dense. They can be anywhere from a half inch to two inches in size and appear bluish, pink or red. Like many of the other skin cancers, Merkel cell carcinoma is more likely to appear on the head or neck. Half the cases diagnosed will be there. A third of the remaining cases are found on the arms and legs.
If Merkel cell carcinoma is suspected your health care provider will do a physical. Then they will want to do a complete family history. They will need your personal medical history as well. Allergies to medications, and even your preferences to treatment will all be discussed.
Merkel call carcinoma is a complicated cancer to treat, as it often resembles other cancers. A biopsy is required to determine what it is. When your physician examines you, they will check your lymph nodes for swelling, and will do blood work to check blood cell counts. The doctor will also conduct a liver function test and may suggest a CT scan. All of this together will help your physician be able to make a proper diagnosis.
If Merkel cell carcinoma is confirmed the first step in treatment is surgery. The tumor must be surgically removed, as must some healthy tissue around it. If there are reasons that the tumor cannot be removed then the next step will be to use radiation therapy or chemotherapy to attempt to shrink the tumor.
Tests will also be done to investigate the nearby lymph nodes. If there is any fear of the cancer having spread to the lymph nodes they will be removed as a preventative measure.
Radiation treatment may be chosen as the treatment plan. This therapy uses x-rays at a higher than normal energy to shrink or hopefully kill cancerous tumors. This therapy is used either of two ways. Either a machine is used to deliver the radiation therapy or radioisotopes are put into the body to fight the cancer. This is called internal radiation therapy. Chemotherapy is drug therapy and uses poisons to kill the cancer, being careful not to use so much that it kills the host as well. This type of therapy is taken either by pills or intravenously.
The most important thing to remember is if you see something that looks wrong, or wasnt there before see your physician immediately, it could save your life.