After “Margaritaville” singer Jimmy Buffett battled skin cancer for years before his deathwith Merkel cell cancer at the age of 76, a
Merkel cell carcinoma is rare but aggressive form of skin cancer, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.
Merkel cell is 40 times rarer thanAccording to the foundation, there is an estimated one case for every 130,000 people in the United States.
“About 3,000 new cases are diagnosed in the United States each year,” the organization’s website says. “Experts predict that by 2025 this number will increase to 3,250 cases diagnosed annually.”
What causes Merkel cell cancer?
Due to its rarity, it’s not entirely clear what causes Merkel cell carcinoma – but cancer records have helped experts identify commonalities between cases.
According to the American Academy of DermatologyPeople who are most likely to develop this form of cancer have all of the following characteristics:
Men 65 years or older. Fair skin that may burn or freckle when exposed to the sun. They rarely use sunscreen, clothing, or shade to protect their skin from the sun
Using these risk factors, scientists have been able to determine that exposure to sunlight and a weakened immune system play a key role in the development of this form of skin cancer.
A virus called Merkel cell polyomavirus also likely plays a role in causing most cancers, researchers recently found.
“The virus lives on the skin and causes no signs or symptoms. How this virus causes Merkel cell carcinoma has yet to be clarified,” he said Mayo Clinic explained. “Given that the virus is very common and Merkel cell carcinoma is very rare, it is likely that other risk factors play a role in the development of this type of cancer.”
What are Merkel cell symptoms?
According to the Mayo Clinic, the first sign of Merkel cell carcinoma is typically a fast-growing, painless lump, or tumor, on your skin. The lump can be skin-colored or have a red, blue, or purple tint.
“Most Merkel cell carcinomas occur on the face, head, or neck, but they can develop anywhere on the body, including areas that aren’t exposed to sunlight,” adds the Mayo Clinic.
The American Academy of Dermatology warns that people often mistake it for a bug bite, wound, cyst, stye, or pimple.
While Merkel cell carcinoma is often painless, the nodules can feel sore and tender, especially as they grow, the organization adds.
Treatment of Merkel cell cancer
While the Skin Cancer Foundation estimates that Merkel cell carcinoma is about three to five times more likely to be deadly thanit can be successfully treated if detected early.
Treatment options vary depending on the patient’s cancer stage and other factors, but may include: Surgery, radiation and immunotherapy.
Early detection and treatment are crucial Merkel cell carcinomas can spread beyond the skin, according to the Mayo Clinic.
“Merkel cell carcinomas tend to first spread to nearby lymph nodes. It can later spread to the brain, bones, liver or lungs, where it can affect the function of those organs,” the clinic’s website says. “Metastatic cancer is more difficult to treat and can be fatal.”
Another important aspect is self-care after treatment and prevention.
“If you protect your skin from the sun and never tan, you can help prevent a new MCC,” adds the American Academy of Dermatology.