Screening for Merkel Cell Carcinoma

Although there are currently no screening tests recommended to detect cases of Merkel cell carcinoma that show no signs or symptoms, expert cancer researchers at the OSUCCC – James are working to develop tests that can detect and diagnose the disease as early as possible, leading to improved outcomes, faster responses and fewer side effects.

Because early detection is crucial, the OSUCCC – James dermatologists and skin cancer specialists regularly offer screening clinics for potential skin cancers. Additionally, our High Risk Clinic focuses on monitoring patients who are at increased risk for Merkel cell carcinoma and other skin cancers.

If you have risk factors for Merkel cell carcinoma, you should regularly examine moles and other skin lesions.

If you’ve been diagnosed with Merkel cell carcinoma, would like a second opinion or would like to speak with a skin cancer specialist, please call The James Line at 800-293-5066 or 614-293-5066 to make an appointment.

Merkel Cell Carcinoma Risk Factors

A Merkel cell carcinoma risk factor is anything that increases your chances of developing the disease. Risk factors for Merkel cell carcinoma include:

  • Exposure to a lot of natural sunlight
  • Exposure to artificial sunlight, such as from tanning beds, or the drug psoralen and ultraviolet A therapy for skin conditions such as psoriasis
  • An immune system weakened by disease such as chronic lymphocytic leukemia or HIV infection
  • Taking drugs that make the immune system less active, such as after an organ transplant
  • A history of other types of cancer
  • Being older than 50 years, male or Caucasian

(Source: National Cancer Institute)

Not everyone with risk factors will get Merkel cell carcinoma. But having certain risk factors may increase your risk of developing the disease. If you are at high risk for Merkel cell carcinoma, talk to your doctor about tests to find out if you have early signs of the disease.

If you’ve been diagnosed with Merkel cell carcinoma, would like a second opinion or would like to speak with a skin cancer specialist, please call The James Line at 800-293-5066 or 614-293-5066 to make an appointment.

Diagnosing Merkel Cell Carcinoma

An accurate, complete diagnosis is essential for effectively treating Merkel cell carcinoma. Because there is no routine cancer, the OSUCCC – James’s world-renowned skin cancer specialists and sub-specialists reach across multiple disciplines and modes of treatment to offer patients the latest technologies, drug treatments and the most advanced procedures to understand Merkel cell carcinoma at the molecular and genetic levels – the levels that drive each patient’s specific kind of cancer.

The OSUCCC – James is home to world-renowned diagnostic experts in Merkel cell carcinoma. In fact, our team includes experts who specialize in skin cancers – and only skin cancers, 24/7 – studying, discovering and treating each kind, and developing and delivering leading-edge therapies.

These sub-specialists and super sub-specialists use the most accurate, advanced diagnostic testing and technology to analyze your cancer, enabling an entire team across multiple medical disciplines to determine the most effective, targeted treatment specifically for you.

Merkel cell carcinoma usually usually is detected when a mole or pigmented area of skin changes or looks abnormal. If cancer is suspected, your OSUCCC – James specialists will conduct the following tests to form a diagnosis:

Physical Exam

During a physical exam, an OSUCCC – James skin cancer expert examines the body carefully for any signs of disease. The patient is asked about their medical history, lifestyle, any past disease, treatments and family history.

Full-Body Skin Exam

An OSUCCC – James skin cancer expert checks the skin for any unusual lumps, growths or spots that appear abnormal in color, size, shape or texture. Lymph nodes are also checked for their size and shape.

Skin Biopsy

A piece of tissue or tumor is removed so that a specially trained OSUCCC – James pathologist can examine the cells under a microscope for any signs cancer. The cells also will be analyzed for certain genetic changes that indicate Merkel cell carcinoma, which helps your specialists choose the most effective, personalized treatment options for your particular cancer.

Staging Merkel Cell Carcinoma

If you are diagnosed with Merkel cell carcinoma, staging the tumor is just one of many ways your OSUCCC – James skin cancer experts can determine the amount and location of your cancer, as well as if it has spread, and it can help them choose the most effective, personalized treatment options for your particular cancer.

The staging classification remains the same throughout treatment.

  • The tumor is a group of abnormal cells that remain in the place where they first formed and have not spread.
  • These abnormal cells may become cancer and spread to lymph nodes or distant parts of the body.

Stage IA

  • The tumor is 2 centimeters or smaller at its widest point
  • No cancer is found in the lymph nodes

Stage IB

  • The tumor is 2 centimeters or smaller at its widest point
  • No swollen lymph nodes are found by a physical exam or imaging tests.

Stage IIA

  • The tumor is larger than 2 centimeters
  • No cancer is found in the lymph nodes

Stage IIB

  • The tumor is larger than 2 centimeters
  • No swollen lymph nodes are found by a physical exam or imaging tests.

Stage IIC

  • The tumor may be any size
  • The tumor has spread to nearby bone, muscle, connective tissue, or cartilage.
  • The tumor has not spread to lymph nodes or distant parts of the body.

Stage IIIA

  • The tumor may be any size and may have spread to nearby bone, muscle, connective tissue, or cartilage.
  • Cancer is found in the lymph nodes.

Stage IIIB

  • The tumor may be any size and may have spread to nearby bone, muscle, connective tissue, or cartilage.
  • Cancer has spread to the lymph nodes near the tumor
  • There may also be a second tumor, which is either:
    • between the primary tumor and nearby lymph nodes; or
    • farther away from the center of the body than the primary tumor is

Stage IV

  • The tumor may be any size
  • The tumor has spread to distant parts of the body, such as the liver, lung, bone, or brain.

If you’ve been diagnosed with Merkel cell carcinoma, would like a second opinion or would like to speak with a skin cancer specialist, please call The James Line at 800-293-5066 or 614-293-5066 to make an appointment.

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The James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute

460 West 10th Avenue

Columbus, Ohio 43210

800-293-5066 or 614-293-5066

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