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June 2006

Management of Merkel Cell Carcinoma: What We Know

Arch Dermatol. 2006;142(6):771-774. doi:10.1001/archderm.142.6.771

Merkel cell carcinoma is a growing health problem and the second most common cause of nonmelanoma skin cancer death. A recent review of the population-based cancer-related death registry (1994-1998) in the state of Western Australia detected 120 deaths from nonmelanoma skin cancer, including 89 from squamous cell carcinoma and 22 from Merkel cell carcinoma.1 Incidence of Merkel cell carcinoma appears to be increasing, with the rate detected by the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) registry rising 3-fold from an age-adjusted rate of 0.15 cases per 100 000 in 1986 to 0.44 per 100 000 in 2001.2 The estimated annual percentage change in incidence during this period was 8% per year for Merkel cell compared with 3% per year for melanoma. Factors contributing to the rise may include a higher concurrent risk of suppressed immunity, such as that associated with organ transplantation, and the share of the population represented by elderly persons, who are at highest risk for Merkel cell carcinoma.

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