Merkel Cell Cancer on the Rise

Incidences of merkel cell carcinoma, a rare skin cancer, increased 95% between 2000 and 2013, and are expected to rise further in the future due to the aging US population.

Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is a rare neuroendocrine carcinoma of the skin that usually appears as a painless but fast-growing flesh-colored or bluish-red nodule on the face, head or neck. It’s more common in older people and is associated with long-term sun exposure.

Researchers led by Kelly Paulson, MD, PhD from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington used data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program to identify MCC incidence rates and trends. They found that from 2000-2013, skin cancers classified as “solid” (e.g., basal, squamous cell) increased 15%, melanoma increased 57%, and MCC increased 95%.

Although it’s a rare skin cancer, in 2013, MCC incidence was 0.7 cases/100,000 person-years, corresponding to 2,488 cases per year. An exponential increase was associated with age, from 0.1 to 1.0 to 9.8 per 100,000 person-years among age groups from age 40 to age 85 and older. The researchers noted that with an aging population, the incidence of MCC is expected to climb.