Merkel Cell Carcinoma

In men and women, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer. While the two most common types of skin cancer – basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma – are highly treatable, other types of skin cancer, such as melanoma or Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC), are still treatable but pose a greater threat.

MCC is a rare form of skin cancer that presents itself as a red or purple papule. The papule looks very similar to a pimple but cannot be popped, does not go away and often continues to grow. Only about 3,000 cases of MCC are reported in the U.S. each year. With MCC numbers and awareness on the rise, immunotherapies have been found to be effective treatment options.

MCC Risk Factors

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sun exposure or a tanning bed is the primary risk factor for developing MCC. Individuals over 70 and immunocompromised individuals are at a greater risk for developing MCC. Males are twice as likely to develop MCC than females.

Skin Cancer Prevention

Prevention is the best method for avoiding skin cancers. To prevent MCC and other skin cancers:

  • Wear clothing that blocks UV rays.
  • Wear hats and sunglasses to protect your head, neck and eyes.
  • Avoid the sun between 10 a.m.-2 p.m., when it is at its peak. Remember that water and hard surfaces reflect UV radiation.
  • Put on sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher and reapply throughout the day.

Skin Cancer Screening

It is important to detect any skin cancer early. Routine self-examination is the best way to catch skin cancers. If left untreated, skin cancer can spread to other parts of the body.

Do not hesitate to see a medical professional if you have any skin cancer signs or symptoms. Talk to your primary care provider or dermatologist to schedule your skin cancer screening. Call the UofL Physicians – Primary Care hotline at 502-588-4343 to find a primary care provider at UofL Health.

UofL Health – Brown Cancer Center treats a wide variety of cancers and is nationally recognized for its clinical care, research, prevention, education and community outreach efforts. As the region’s only academic cancer center, we are dedicated to making scientific discoveries that will lead to enhanced treatment opportunities, helping more patients and their families cope with cancer. For new patient appointments, call 502-562-HOPE (4673).

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Article by: Jason Chesney, M.D., Ph.D.

Jason Chesney, M.D., Ph.D., is director and chief administrative officer of UofL Health – Brown Cancer Center and the Oncology Service Line. He has served as director since 2017. He is a practicing medical oncologist, specializing in melanoma, lung cancer and immunotherapies. He is a laborartory researcher and clinical trialist, and is an inventor on nine U.S. patents for new cancer therapies. His laboratory research has resulted in two ongoing Phase I clinical trials of novel cancer drugs that are currently available to advanced cancer patients. In 2014, Dr. Chesney’s clinical research team and a second team from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center were the top two clinical groups worldwide to find that the combination of ipilimumab with another immune checkpoint inhibitor, nivolumab, was the most effective immunotherapy regimen ever developed for cancer patients. Dr. Chesney also serves as associate vice president for health affairs for University of Louisville School of Medicine.

All posts by Jason Chesney, M.D., Ph.D.
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