Surgery is typically the primary treatment for Merkel cell carcinoma. The most often-recommended procedure is a wide local excision (removal of a tumor along with a few centimeters of surrounding tissue), but a surgeon might also recommend Mohs micrographic surgery (removal of successive layers of skin, one layer at a time, until no traces of cancer are found). Reconstructive surgery might also be offered to a patient if a particularly large area of skin is removed.
Merkel cell carcinoma surgery often requires a significant amount of specialized expertise, as this cancer is prone to spreading beyond the original site. However, if cancerous cells have not spread to any distant organs, an experienced surgeon may be able to remove most – if not all – of the primary tumor, along with any affected lymph nodes. If cancerous cells have spread to distant regions, radiation therapy or chemotherapy might be recommended instead of or in addition to surgery.
When evaluating a patient for Merkel cell carcinoma surgery, an oncologist will typically:
- Check the lymph nodes for signs of cancer
- Look for potential distant metastases if cancer is found in the lymph nodes
- Consult with radiation oncologists and medical oncologists to determine the best way to destroy any residual cancer cells after surgery
Multispecialty collaboration is one of the hallmarks of Moffitt Cancer Center’s Cutaneous Oncology Program. Surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, supportive care providers and other medical professionals work as a team to design an individualized treatment plan for each patient. Mohs micrographic surgery is offered in conjunction with the USF Department of Dermatology. Careful consideration is given not only to the potential outcomes of a specific treatment, but also the impact it is most likely to have on a patient’s quality of life.
No referral is required to make an appointment at Moffitt Cancer Center. Patients who are considering Merkel cell carcinoma surgery can call 1-888-663-3488 or submit a new patient registration form online to request a visit with one of our expert surgeons.