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Merkel's Cell Tumors

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Merkel's cell cancer, also called neuroendocrine cancer of the skin or trabecular cancer, is a rare type of cancer that forms on or just beneath the skin and in hair follicles and, in some cases, in underlying soft tissue. This type of cancer occurs predominately in Caucasian people between the ages of 60 and 80.


Merkel's cell tumors usually appear as firm, painless, shiny skin lumps. The lumps are red, pink, brown, or blue; they range from approximately a quarter inch to two inches in size. They are most often (but not always) found on the sun-exposed areas of the head and neck.

These tumors grow rapidly and can quickly metastasize (spread) to other parts of the body. Merkel's cell cancer tends to spread to the regional lymph nodes, and also may spread to the liver, bone, lungs, and brain.

Diagnosis and treatment

The preferred treatment for Merkel’s cell tumors is surgery followed by targeted radiation therapy to destroy any remaining cancer cells. When Merkel's cell cancer has spread, it is typically treated with chemotherapy.

Like many cancers, early diagnosis and treatment is critical to decreasing the likelihood that the cancer will spread.

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