One of the rarer types of skin cancer, Merkel cell carcinoma is a fast growing form of cancer that is normally found on the face, neck, or head. Sometimes referred to as neuroendocrine carcinoma of the skin, the disease is usually triggered by the presence of a weakened immune system or excessive exposure to sunlight. Because this type of cancer can develop and spread rapidly, it is very important to diagnose and treat it as early as possible.
Merkel cell carcinoma gets its name from the Merkel cell, which is found in the top layer of the epidermis. There is some difference of opinion on why the Merkel cell may begin to develop abnormally and lead to the creation of this form of carcinoma. Some believe that too much exposure to sunlight triggers something in the genetic code of the cell, causing it to rapidly reproduce. Others believe that the Merkel cell itself is not directly involved; rather, other cells begin to develop in a pattern that resembles the Merkel cell and essentially infects them so that the skin cancer develops.
Regardless of the exact origins, it is clear that too much sun exposure is a factor in the development of Merkel cell carcinoma. At the same time, a low functioning immune system will not have the ability to attack and subdue the developing carcinoma, making it possible to the skin cancer to quickly infect deeper layers of skin and eventually infiltrate vital organs around the body.
The first outward sign of the presence of Merkel cell carcinoma may be a freckle, mole, or skin bump that appears to be growing or changing its shape or color at a noticeable pace. The area may become sensitive to the point of causing bleeding to occur even after washing the face or shaving. While not every instance of a change in a freckle or mole is a sure indicator of the presence of this form of skin cancer, it is worth your time to have the area checked by a qualified physician.
As Merkel cell carcinoma progresses, more blemishes on the skin will appear. While generally painless, the appearance of more moles or freckles may lead to unusually sensitive skin that makes even routine hygiene an unpleasant endeavor. Because the skin cancer can begin spreading rapidly throughout the body at this stage, treatments should commence immediately.
There are several possible treatments for Merkel cell carcinoma. Surgery to remove the mole for biopsy is often a recommended approach. With a little luck, the cancer has not begun to spread and is still self-contained. However, if the cancer has already begun to metastasize, follow up treatments such as radiation therapy or chemotherapy may be required to completely stop the spread of the cancer cells. Depending on the severity of the situation, it may take treatments administered over a period of several months to finally bring the condition under control.
For the most part, taking preventive measures will help to minimize the chances of ever developing Merkel cell carcinoma in the first place. Limited sun exposure during the peak period between ten a.m. and four p.m. will greatly enhance the odds of developing this or any other type of skin cancer. Applying sunscreen before spending time in the sun is also likely to make a big difference. Consuming foods that are rich in the nutrients needed to maintain a healthy immune system will also be beneficial. Should any mole or freckle begin to change, don’t wait to see what happens. See a doctor immediately; if Merkel cell carcinoma is present, it will be in the early stages and can be treated quickly and effectively.