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Merkel Cell Carcinoma Treatment

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, your doctor may recommend removing them with surgery.

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 spreads to distant parts of the body, systemic medications are an option. Currently two immunotherapy drugs are available to treatment merkel cell carcinoma. Bavencio® (avelumab) is the first drug specifically approved for metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma.2 Keytruda (pembrolizumab) is also used to treat advanced Merkel cell carcinoma. Chemotherapy is another option thay may be used to treat Merkel cell carcinoma.1

Written by: Sarah O'Brien | Last reviewed: December 2019.
  1. NCCN Clinical Practice Guidelines in Oncology. Merkel cell carcinoma. Version 1.2017. Published October 3, 2016.
  2. FDA approves first treatment for rare form of skin cancer [press release]. March 23, 2017. Accessed April 28, 2017 at: