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Skin Cancer (Cutaneous Oncology) Program

Patient and Family Education

Merkel cell carcinoma


The treatment for MCC may include surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy depending on the stage of disease.


Wide local excision: In the majority of patients with MCC, the primary lesion can be removed by a procedure know as a wide local excision. This procedure removes the abnormal cells, as well as a margin of normal tissue surrounding the abnormal cells. A wide local excision procedure is performed in the operating room but generally does not require admission to the hospital.

Lymph node evaluation:
Sentinel lymph node biopsy: A sentinel lymph node biopsy is a procedure that allows a surgeon to identify and remove lymph nodes that are most likely to contain abnormal cells from the primary MCC lesion. This procedure is performed in suitable surgical candidates with MCC.

Lymph node dissection: A lymph node dissection is a procedure that removes all lymph nodes in a particular area of the body. This procedure is performed if abnormal cells are identified in the lymph nodes that are near the primary melanoma lesion.


Radiation therapy is the use of high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells. In patients with MCC, radiation may be used in addition to surgery to treat the primary tumor site, or it may be used to treat the lymph node basins.


Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be given by many methods including intravenously (IV), intraarterially (IA), intramuscularly (IM), and orally. Chemotherapy in patients with MCC is generally reserved for those with evidence of spread to other parts of the body (metastatic disease) or for patients who are not considered suitable candidates for surgery.

This page was last updated on: October 19, 2009.