Although most patients are aware of the association between sun exposure and skin cancer, few have ever heard of Merkel cell cancer. Peter Beitsch, MD, at Dallas Surgical Group has extensive experience identifying this rare type of skin cancer, performing Merkel cell testing to obtain an accurate diagnosis, then initiating quick treatment. If you notice a bump on your face, eyelids, or other sun-exposed areas, call the office in Dallas or schedule an appointment online.
Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare type of skin cancer that’s very aggressive and frequently recurs. The cancer is usually diagnosed in adults older than 50, where it’s most commonly found in sun-exposed areas of the head and neck, especially the eyelids. You may also develop Merkel cell cancer on your upper arms, shoulders, and upper body.
About 80% of Merkel cell carcinomas are associated with a polyomavirus, a type of virus that’s naturally abundant in the environment. When the virus enters Merkel cells, it makes them grow unusually fast, rapidly becoming cancerous and potentially spreading through your body if not treated properly.
Merkel cell carcinoma first appears as a single, painless, firm bump or nodule that’s red, blue, and purple. The nodule may vary in size when it first appears but it grows quickly, often reaching the width of a dime by the time it’s diagnosed.
The only way to definitively diagnose Merkel cell cancer is with a biopsy, which is accomplished by removing the entire lesion along with some of the surrounding tissues. This is usually done by dermatologists. Patients are then referred to Dr. Beitsch for evaluation including sonographic examination of the regional lymph nodes. If a lymph node appears abnormal, Dr. Beitsch may perform a fine needle aspiration or a core biopsy. A fine needle aspiration is done to draw fluid out of the targeted lymph nodes. He does a core biopsy using a thin, hollow needle to pull out small pieces of tissue.
The mainstay of treatment for Merkel Cell Carcinoma includes a wide excision of the skin around the Merkel Cell carcinoma biopsy as well as mapping the skin to determine which lymph nodes drain that skin and remove them (this is called a sentinel lymph node biopsy). After surgery, you may receive radiation therapy or chemotherapy, depending on the stage of the cancer. You may also be a good candidate for immunotherapy.
The first medication specifically targeting Merkel cell carcinoma was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration in 2017. The medication, an immune checkpoint inhibitor, stimulates your immune system so it can fight the cancer.
If you have been diagnosed with Merkel Cell Carcinoma, call Dallas Surgical Group or book an appointment online.