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Is Merkel Cell Carcinoma Fatal & What Does Merkel Cell Cancer Look Like?

As with other types of cancer, Merkel cell carcinoma also has the potential to metastasize. Thus, in the absence of treatment or cases of its poor response towards treatment, Merkel cell carcinoma may have a fatal outcome.

Is Merkel Cell Carcinoma Fatal?

Is Merkel Cell Carcinoma Fatal?

Like with any other cancer the prognosis of Merkel cell carcinoma depends upon the stage at which the condition is diagnosed and the response of the patients towards treatment. Prognosis is poor when cancer has been metastasized to distant organs, while the condition is responsive to treatment at early stages. The condition has also the characteristic of frequent relapsing making is difficult to treat.

Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare disease and because of this reason, the accurate prognosis of this condition cannot be done. It has been estimated that if the cancer is localized and limited to its area of origin, the 5-year survival rate is 78% while Merkel cell carcinoma with regional spreading has 51% 5-year survival rate. The 5-year survival rate drops down to a mere 17% when cancer gets metastasized to distant organs3.

What Does Merkel Cell Cancer Look Like?

A Hard Patch On The Skin: Merkel cell carcinoma is characterized by painless hard patches on the skin.

Firm Bumps: A type of firm bumps occur on the skin that is normally brown and black. The bumps may be of round or oval shape.

Irregular Shape And Size Of The Lesions: In some cases, the lesions may be a large and irregular shape.

Different Color Of The Bumps: Bumps of Merkel cell carcinoma occurs in varying colors such as bluish, reddish or flesh-colored.

An Inflamed Cyst: Cyst may also grow on the skin along with inflammation that normally is red-purple.

The Bumps Spread Fast In The Skin: Merkel cell carcinoma is an aggressive disease that disease spread nearby the lymph node and other body parts and organs. In Merkel cell carcinoma, the bump grows fast on the skin without causing pain4.

Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare condition. It has a rapid rate of progression and if diagnosis and treatment are not done at an initial stage, the disease has the potential to get rapidly metastasized. During its progression, patients with Merkel cell carcinoma experiences following complications:

Neurological Complication: Although the spreading of Merkel cell carcinoma to the central nervous system is not a common phenomenon it may occur in some cases. The neurological complication of Merkel cell carcinoma is characterized by the presence of seizures, myoclonus, altered mental status, cauda equina syndrome, and bilateral radiculopathies. Brain examination reveals increased brain mass and leptomeningeal disease1.

Cancer Metastasis: Merkel cell carcinoma is a highly aggressive type of cancer and in absence of early diagnosis and proper treatment strategy may metastasize to liver, lungs, bones, distant skin, or other organs of the body. Spreading may initiate through lymph nodes in the nearby region when the Merkel cell carcinoma has been originated. The severity of complications depends upon the organ affected and symptoms experienced by the patient.

Gastric Metastasis: Merkel cell carcinoma has also been reported to get metastasize in gastro-intestinal region2. Gastric metastasis is a rare phenomenon and thus effective treatment strategy for Merkel cell carcinoma in the gastric cavity is not clear. Patient with such rare condition experiences gastric pain and bleeding.

Side Effects Of Treatment: Complications also occurs in the patients because of side effects from the treatment of Merkel cell carcinoma. All the treatment options have their side effects be it surgery, radiotherapy, immunotherapy or chemotherapy. Complications with treatment cause discomfort for patients.


Merkel cells carcinoma has fair prognosis when diagnosed at the initial stage. The 5-year survival rate for localized cancer is 73%. However, the prognosis is poor in case cancer gets metastasized to distant organs. In such a case, the 5-year survival rate is just 17%.


Also Read:

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:October 12, 2021

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