While skin cancer is well-known and well-documented, in most communities, few people differentiate between the various types. Melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are, unfortunately, quite prevalent (and on the rise). It is important to understand the risk factors and preventative measures for these cancer types. However, there is one rare type of skin cancer called Merkel cell carcinoma: a deadly type of skin cancer with a low survival rate that still has no approved, specialized treatment method.
Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) begins in the Merkel cells: mechanoreceptors in the body that pick-up and respond to touch and other sensitivities. In short, they allow us to feel; by sending information about what we’re interacting with to our brains. Clustering especially in sensitive areas (lips, mouth, follicles, etc.), Merkel cells are highly responsible for one of our main senses. Being in the top layer of skin, it makes them also especially sensitive to light and heat.
When Merkel cells become cancerous, the cancer is known to be aggressive: spreading to remote parts of the body, by traveling through the lymphatic system. This makes early diagnosis extremely important. Having a 5-year survival rate of roughly 60% (Source:Cancer.org), MCC is one of the deadliest skin cancers discovered. With such a high mortality rate but a small amount of research surrounding it (when compared to other more prevalent types of skin cancer), many doctors and surgeons are challenged to find a suitable treatment method.
The signs of Merkel cell carcinoma can be highly misleading and call for immediate screening, if possible symptoms occur. MCC more often occurs in sun-exposed skin, especially around the more sensitive areas on the face, head, neck, and arms. The appearance is often misread as a cyst, minor sore, or other type of skin cancer. Often looking like a flesh-colored, red, or off-blue bump, many people overlook the condition, as it tends to appear not as out of the ordinary as many other skin cancer variations. If you notice a similar bump is spreading quickly or the skin around it seems to be breaking down or peeling, consult a doctor as soon as possible.
Risk factors most associated with MCC are age, sun exposure, and immune deficiencies. Those over the age of 65 are at the highest risk. However, that is not to say that younger people should forget about skin protection or the dangers of tanning. UV exposure, especially for those with fair skin, is highly instrumental in the formation of MCC. Chronic immune suppression is also influential: especially with conditions/situations such as HIV, other cancers (such as lymphoma), recent organ transplants, kidney disease or taking certain medications that may weaken or slow the immune system.
Merkel cell carcinoma is one of the late-stage cancer types that OncoSec is creating alternative treatment methods for. As an aggressive and deadly – yet under-researched and treated – cancer, we find it imperative that those diagnosed have effective treatment options. We are currently running our Phase II trial for our MCC treatment. For more information on the trial or to register as a participant, please see our clinical trials page. If you are in need of more in-depth knowledge about this type of cancer, please see our previous blog post.
At OncoSec, we are dedicated to fighting the destructive influence of skin cancer. Please join us on Facebook and Twitter, and help us raise awareness surrounding prevention and risk factors, while encouraging advocates, survivors and those currently going through treatment. Together, we can make a difference.