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Exercise, eating well, and undergoing physical exams are important steps for your health and wellness. Unfortunately, these steps do not keep you safe from various medical conditions and diseases. Skin cancer is a serious disease that most people do not place much emphasis on understanding. There are many forms of this silent killer, but certain types are more aggressive and dangerous.
Merkel cell carcinoma kills one in three patients compared with the one in nine patients that die of melanoma. Considering the higher fatality rate, understanding Merkel cell carcinoma is essential. With this guide and your doctor's help, you will learn the causes, signs, and treatment options for the rare Merkel cell carcinoma.
To understand the cause of this aggressive type of skin cancer, you must understand the cells. Merkel cells are found at the base of the outermost layer of the skin, known as the epidermis. These cells connect almost directly to nerve endings, so any damage to these cells can be painful.
A virus that affects cells has been linked to causing Merkel cell carcinoma. The virus, Merkel cell polyomavirus, is very common, even though Merkel cell carcinoma is very rare.
Exposure to an excessive amount of ultraviolet light can also cause this disease and other types of skin cancer. Because of this risk, it is best to limit your time outdoors in the sun and avoid using tanning beds.
Do not go outdoors during times when UV ray exposure is at its highest, which is between 10 AM and 4 PM. Also, apply a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 each day for added protection. If you plan to be outdoors for long periods of time, use a sunscreen with an SPF of 30.
Early diagnosis is key to effective treatment, so learning the signs and symptoms of Merkel cell carcinoma is imperative. Of course, it is important to note that each patient is different and may experience different symptoms of this disease.
A fast-growing nodule, or tumor, that is red, blue, or purple in color is usually the first sign of Merkel cell carcinoma. These nodules develop on the head, neck, or face mostly, but they can grow on any areas of the skin that are exposed to sunlight.
Any bump, freckle, or mole that has seemed to change in size, shape, or color may also be a sign of Merkel cell carcinoma or another form of skin cancer. In addition, if any raised areas of your skin are flaky, painful, or bleeding, consult your doctor immediately for further testing.
After your doctor completes a thorough exam, a biopsy of any skin abnormalities will be taken. This small sample of skin will be tested to determine if you have skin cancer. Imaging tests, such a X-rays and CT scans, may also be necessary to learn if the Merkel cell carcinoma has spread to other areas of the body.
As with any other cancer, treatment will depend on a few factors, including the severity of the disease, your underlying health, and your preferences.
In most cases, doctors will recommend surgery to remove the cancerous tumors. During this procedure, your doctor will also remove a border of skin that surrounds the tumor. If the cancer has spread to your lymph nodes, these will also be removed during the surgery.
Mohs surgery is another option that may be recommended by your doctor since it requires less removal of normal, healthy skin. During this surgery, the doctor will remove one thin layer of skin at a time. Each layer is evaluated for cancer under a microscope. Layers are continuously removed until there are no signs of cancerous cells.
In severe cases of Merkell cell carcinoma, doctors will recommend chemotherapy or radiation. These treatments target a larger area of the body, making them the best option for patients whose skin cancer has spread through the body.
Talk with doctors from a clinic like Countryside Dermatology & Laser Center if you have specific questions about skin cancer treatment.