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More Deadly Than Melanoma and Becoming More Common

Mar 31, 2018 by Larry Morgan

Luckily for humans, the rates of many forms of cancer are on the decline, thanks to advancements in science and medicine.

Conversely, there are still some cancers whose rates continue to increase – and a rare, deadly form of skin cancer may not be so rare anymore.

Merkel Cell Carcinoma (MCC)

This form of skin cancer is more rare compared to melanoma, affecting a few thousand people annually compared to tens of thousands.

But what it lacks in frequency, it makes up for in severity. This skin cancer is aggressive and quite deadly, and while it used to be rare, data shows its rates are on the rise.

It’s not entirely known what causes MCC, but a common virus may be causing most diagnoses. This virus is still an enigma to scientists, however.

Risk factors for MCC include:

  • Older age (over 50)
  • Having lighter skin color
  • A poor immune system
  • Excessive sun or artificial light exposure

The first sign of this condition is a painless tumor that grows rather quickly on your skin. It could be a variety of colors, usually red, purple or blue. While they can develop anywhere on your body, they most commonly pop up on the neck, head or face.

Incidence Rate

How did scientists notice this spike in MCC cases? They initially found an increase in melanoma cases, so they figured the same trend would be observed with MCC.

They were correct, and in fact found MCC to be coming back with a vengeance. In the span from 2000 to 2013, MCC cases increased by 95%. The increase for melanoma during this time was only 57%. They estimate that as many as 3,200 new cases will be diagnosed in 2025.

The most affected groups were:

  • Men
  • Those with a history of skin cancer
  • Caucasians
  • Those over 50

Age is an especially important risk factor for the disease. Jumping from the mid-40’s to the mid-60’s, the incidence rate of MCC increased 10-fold. And, jumping from the mid-60’s to over 85, the rate increased by 10-fold again.

How to Protect Your Skin

You can help protect yourself from MCC the same way you do from melanoma:

  • Stay out of the sun during its peak times. This is when UV rays are the strongest, and therefore most damaging.
  • Be liberal and frequent with applying sunscreen. An SPF of 15 at a minimum and a reapplication every 2 hours is recommended.
  • Cover yourself when you can. Wear a hat and sunglasses to protect your face, especially.

As with other forms of skin cancer, the best way to treat it if it can’t be prevented is to catch it early.

If you notice a bump anywhere on your body, particularly around your face, head or neck that is growing rather quickly, get it looked at. It could very well be MCC.

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