Symptoms and Signs of Skin Cancer: Merkel Cell Carcinoma

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 4/20/2022

Doctor's Notes on Skin Cancer: Merkel Cell Carcinoma

Merkel cell carcinoma (also termed neuroendocrine carcinoma of the skin or trabecular cancer) is a very rare disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form from Merkel cells in the skin. Signs and symptoms of Merkel cell carcinoma are that it starts as a single fast-growing lump on sun-exposed skin. The cancer is painless, firm, dome-shaped or raised, and red or violet in color. It tends to grow fast and spread. It can go through stages (I to IV) and metastasize to distant organs.

The cause of Merkel carcinoma is unknown. However, risk factors for the disease include a lot of sunlight exposure to skin, the use of tanning beds, immunocompromised by infection (HIV) and/or drugs and medications, having a prior history of cancer, being older than 50, and being male and/or white.

What Are the Treatments for Merkel Cell Carcinoma?

The treatments for Merkel cell carcinoma include the following:

  • Surgery: removal of cancer cells and possibly the lymph nodes nearby
    • Mohs surgery: thin layers of skin removed and examined unlit no cancer cells found
  • Radiation therapy: high-energy beams to destroy cancer cells
  • Immunotherapy: augmenting the person's immune system with immune stimulating compounds
  • Chemotherapy: used (not often) if there are widespread cancer cells in the body

Your cancer team of doctors can recommend a protocol to best treat your cancer.


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.