Merkel cell 'deadliest' skin cancer

July 13, 2011

Scientists in Western Australia say they’ve found that survival rates for people with merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) are far worse than rates for those with melanoma, widely regarded as the most lethal skin cancer, The Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Perth, Australia - Scientists in Western Australia say they’ve found that survival rates for people with merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) are far worse than rates for those with melanoma, widely regarded as the most lethal skin cancer, The Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Researchers from the Western Australia Institute for Medical Research note that while MCC is the most virulent skin cancer, it is relatively uncommon. Basing their findings on a review of the Western Australia Cancer Registry, investigators found that 215 cases of MCC were diagnosed in Western Australia between 1993 and 2007. Of those, 64 percent of patients were still alive after five years, compared with 90 percent of those with melanoma, of which about 1,000 cases are diagnosed annually in the state.

MCCs appear as pink lumps on the skin and are most often found on the face, neck, arm and lower leg. Like melanomas, MCCs are linked to sun exposure. MCCs are often mistaken for the less aggressive and most common form of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma (BCC), according to the study.

Even when the cancers were correctly diagnosed and removed and the patient treated with radiotherapy, however, the tumors were still prone to reappear.

The Morning Herald quotes lead author professor Lin Fritschi as saying, “I don’t think doctors would see (MCCs) often, compared to BCCs and (squamous cell carcinoma). … Most red lumps on your skin are not going to be MCC, but it’s something for doctors to keep aware of.”

Western Australia has the highest rate of MCC in the world, according to the Morning Herald.

The study is scheduled to appear in the British Journal of Dermatology.