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Frequently asked questions

Below are answers to questions you may have about Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC). Remember, for specific questions about your cancer or treatment, it’s best to reach out to your doctor for answers.


Of the about 2,500 Americans diagnosed with MCC each year, approximately 10% of them will have metastatic disease at diagnosis.

For comparison, over 80,000 Americans are diagnosed each year with melanoma—a more common skin cancer.


Tumors are usually firm, painless, and grow quickly. They are often red or purple.


MCC usually develops on areas of the skin that are exposed when you are outside, such as your head, neck, arms, and legs.


Over time, cancers such as MCC can spread to other parts of your body.

When additional tumors appear or existing ones spread, this process is called metastasis, and the new tumors are called metastases.


If your doctor suspects that a mole or skin tumor might be cancerous, a procedure called a biopsy can be used to find out for sure.

To do a biopsy, your doctor removes some or all of the suspicious mole or tumor, and then sends it to a lab for testing.

In the lab, doctors use a variety of tests to find out if the sample is cancerous and, if it is, exactly what kind of cancer it is.


There are a number of ways to treat this type of cancer. Four common treatments are:

  • Surgery, which removes cancer cells from the body
  • Chemotherapy, which kills cancer cells
  • Radiation therapy, which uses high-energy radiation on cancer cells
  • Immunotherapy, which helps your immune system kill cancer cells

Your doctor may also consider whether a clinical trial is right for you.


People with weakened immune systems are more likely to develop MCC. For example, people who have a disease like leukemia or HIV/AIDS may have weakened immune systems. People who have received organ transplants may also have weakened immune systems.

  • Time in the sun increases the risk of developing MCC
  • MCC is most common in older people (around age 75)
  • Having a Merkel cell polyomavirus infection can increase the risk of developing MCC, and although this infection is common, it mostly does not cause cancer