Merkel Cell Carcinoma:  What it Looks Like

Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare type of skin cancer that tends to be very aggressive. About 1,500 cases of this skin cancer are diagnosed in the United States each year.

Where Occurs | Diagnosed Cases of Merkel Cell Carcinoma
MCC can appear anywhere on the skin. A common site is the eyelid as shown in photo A. About 50% of MCCs develop on the head or neck. Photo B shows that MCC can develop elsewhere, such as on the buttock. Like other types of skin cancer, MCC is more common on skin that has received years of sun exposure such as the back of the hand (photo C) or the arm (photo D).


All photographs previously published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 2008 Mar;58(3):375-81. Heath M, Jaimes N, Lemos B et al. “Clinical characteristics of Merkel cell carcinoma at diagnosis in 195 patients: the AEIOU features.” Copyright Elsevier (2008).

Photos A, B, and C
Photographs used with permission of the
 Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 

Photo D
Photograph courtesy of
 www.merkelcell.co.uk, used with permission.

Warning Signs
While MCC is most common on skin that receives years of sun exposure, it can develop anywhere on the skin, inside the mouth, or on the genitals. Signs that a growth may be MCC and should be examined by a dermatologist are:

  • Painless, firm, raised lump or patch on the skin

  • Growing quickly

  • Red, pink, blue, or violet-colored growth

  • Surface often shiny and may have visible capillaries

  • May resemble a pimple, bug bite, cyst, or stye

  • Appears most commonly in a person who is 50 years of age or older and has fair skin that has received years of sun exposure

  • Develops anywhere on the skin. About 50% of MCCs appear on the head or neck. The eyelid is a frequent site

When to See a Dermatologist
A dermatologist should examine any lesion that is changing or growing rapidly. These are common signs of skin cancer. Early diagnosis and treatment offer the best prognosis for MCC and other types of skin cancer.

Related Link
What is Merkel Cell Carcinoma?
Explains who is most at risk and the AEIOUs for detecting MCC

References:
Brewer JD, Appert DL, Rognigk RK. “Merkel Cell Carcinoma.” In: Nouri K, “Skin Cancer.”China. McGraw Hill Medical; 2008. p. 181-94.

Heath M, Jaimes N, Lemos B et al. “Clinical characteristics of Merkel cell carcinoma at diagnosis in 195 patients: the AEIOU features.” J Am Acad Dermatol 2008; 58:375-81.

Nghiem P, Jaimes N. “Merkel Cell Carcinoma.” In: Wolff K, Goldsmith LA, Katz SI, et al. editors. Fitzpatrick’s Dermatology in General Medicine, 7th ed. United States of America, McGraw Hill Medical; 2008. p. 1087-94.


All content solely developed by the American Academy of Dermatology

Merkel cell carcinoma often looks harmless — like a cyst, pimple, or stye. It may even be mistaken for a bug bite.


 
 

 

 

 

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Page last updated 12/12/08

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