Merkel Cell Carcinoma Treatment

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: January, 2022. | Last updated: July 2022

Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare, aggressive cancer. Treatment options and outcome data are somewhat limited.

How is Merkel cell carcinoma treated?


The first choice of treatment for early-stage Merkel cell carcinoma is wide excision.1

Lymph node dissection

If the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes close to the tumor, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove these nearby lymph nodes. Removal of the lymph nodes is called lymph node dissection.

Radiation therapy

Radiation therapy may be used as adjuvant treatment. It may be used to treat the tumor site after excision or to treat the area where lymph nodes were removed. In some cases, radiation therapy is the primary treatment if surgery is not possible.1

Systemic medications

If Merkel cell carcinoma is advanced or spreads to distant parts of the body, systemic medications may be an option. Currently two immunotherapy drugs are available to treat Merkel cell carcinoma. Bavencio® (avelumab) is the first drug specifically approved for metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma 2Keytruda (pembrolizumab) is another immunotherapy medication that may be used to treat recurrent (has come back after treatment) locally advanced or metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma. Chemotherapy is another option that may be used to treat Merkel cell carcinoma.1

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