Merkel Cell Carcinoma Treatment

A patient’s Merkel cell carcinoma treatment options primarily depend on the extent of the cancer at the time of his or her diagnosis. Because Merkel cell carcinomas are more likely to spread than other types of skin cancer, a patient’s oncologist must evaluate the patient for signs of possible metastasis to the lymph nodes or other organs. This helps the physician determine the most appropriate forms of treatment.

For Merkel cell carcinomas that do not show signs of metastasis, a surgeon may attempt to completely remove the cancer through surgery. This may involve a wide local excision, in which the tumor is cut out, or a Mohs micrographic surgery, in which thin layers of skin are removed and tested until the entire tumor has been taken away. After surgery, radiation therapy might be recommended to help destroy any residual cancer cells and reduce the risk of recurrence.

For Merkel cell carcinomas that have spread, a surgeon might still recommend surgery to remove a significant amount of the tumor. If the amount of skin removed is very large, a plastic surgeon may perform reconstructive surgery or skin grafting to improve the cosmetic outcome. Afterward, additional treatments may be recommended to destroy the cancerous cells that have metastasized to the lymph nodes, surrounding tissues or distant organs. Additional Merkel cell carcinoma treatment options include:

  • Lymph node dissection (removal of one or more lymph nodes)
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy

Patients who are not good candidates for (or who elect not to undergo) surgery might instead receive radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy as their primary forms of treatment. Patients might also choose to enroll in clinical trials to access promising new skin cancer treatments before those treatments are offered in other settings.

At Moffitt Cancer Center, a multispecialty team is available to determine the best approach to Merkel cell carcinoma treatment. All of our skin cancer treatments are available in a single convenient location, and patients can request appointments with or without referrals. To schedule a visit, call 1-888-663-3488 or submit a new patient registration form online.