Merkel Cell Carcinoma Treatments

City of Hope’s approach to treating skin cancer starts with a coordinated, multidisciplinary care team whose main goal is offering you the best, most individualized treatment plan. Your plan includes the newest therapies — including immunotherapies — and innovative treatment combinations effective for even the most advanced Merkel cell carcinoma patients.

We treat patients at all stages of disease, from initial diagnosis to advanced stages, including those with:

  • Recurrent disease
  • Metastatic disease
  • Disease that has spread to lymph nodes

The goal for everyone we treat revolves around options, starting with the important opportunity to participate in clinical trials at every stage of your cancer. This provides you with leading-edge treatments and access to studies that will define the next generation of best treatments. Our treatment approach involves:

  • Consultation with a specially trained comprehensive dermatology group
  • A layered, thorough and accurate diagnostic process led by deeply experienced pathology staff
  • Regular input from experts in various subspecialties at every stage of your treatment
  • Near-constant refinement of therapies designed to adapt to changes in your disease
  • Best-practice prevention and management of all treatment-related side effects
Surgery for Merkel Cell Carcinoma

Surgery is the most common treatment for removing Merkel cell carcinoma, and it may be the only treatment needed if the stage of the Merkel cell carcinoma is early and the tumors are superficial and small. The goal of surgery is to completely remove the tumor while trying to preserve healthy tissue. Our Merkel cell carcinoma and plastic surgery teams frequently collaborate to reduce deformity and complications, restore appearance and preserve quality of life for our patients.

  • In a group of lymph nodes, the sentinel lymph node tends to be the primary channel into which cancer will drain. Sentinel node biopsy is a robotic surgical procedure in which the sentinel lymph nodes are checked for cancer cells. If they test negative for cancer, the rest of the nodes can be left intact. However, if the sentinel lymph nodes show cancer cells, then the team removes it along with nearby lymph nodes during this procedure.
  • Lymph node dissection is surgery to remove lymph nodes when Merkel cell carcinoma is found in the sentinel and other lymph nodes.
  • Wide local excision involves removing Merkel cell carcinoma, along with normal tissue surrounding it. If a large swath of skin is removed during the procedure, a skin graft may be required to replace it.
Radiation Therapy for Merkel Cell Carcinoma

Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation therapy is involved in treatment for Merkel cell carcinoma when:

  • Surgery is not a good option.
  • Merkel cell carcinoma is not completely removed by surgery.
  • Lymph nodes have been removed to prevent cancer from returning.
  • Merkel cell carcinoma returns and begins growing again on skin or in lymph nodes

City of Hope offers advanced and highly targeted radiation treatments and chemotherapy after surgery. If the tumor is large, chemotherapy may also be offered before surgery or radiation.

To help manage advanced cases of the highly aggressive Merkel cell carcinoma, your City of Hope skin cancer care team may recommend promising immunotherapies and continued surveillance, if tumors grow back.

Immunotherapy for Merkel Cell Carcinoma

City of Hope clinical trials gives our patients access to the latest immunotherapies to treat Merkel cell carcinoma.

Find a clinical trial