Recent Study Reveals New Clues About Merkel Cell Carcinoma

According to a story from, a recent study is giving scientists new insights into the nature of Merkel cell carcinoma, a rare cancer that affects the skin. The study process involved an extensive genomic analysis of patients with the disease, which will help researchers understand more about the causes of this cancer as well as its development and progression. You can look at the original study in the scientific journal Clinical Cancer Research.

About Merkel Cell Carcinoma

Merkel cell carcinoma is a type of skin cancer that is known for its rarity and aggressiveness. In most cases, roughly 80 percent, the disease is caused by Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCV). Tumors of this cancer are infected with the virus when it is found to be the cause. In the remaining cases, exposure to sunlight or UV light may be part of the cause, as it can often appear alongside other more common types of skin cancer. Signs and symptoms include a small painless skin nodule, that may be red or blue in color and enlarge rapidly. Merkel cell carcinoma can metastasize rapidly to the lymph nodes or other internal organs. Treatments for this cancer include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. More targeted therapies are currently being tested. Curing the cancer is very difficult once metastasis has occurred. The five year survival rate for this disease is around 60 percent. To learn more about Merkel cell carcinoma, click here.

Study Results

The analysis has identified two categories of patients that are called molecular subgroups. These groups are defined by the mutations that are linked to the cancer: a viral driven variant and a UV light driven variant. The scientists looked at 317 carcinoma tumors. The researchers also conducted an analysis of 57 patients to examine molecular and clinical signs of response to immune checkpoint inhibition.

The content of this research could help spur the development of new, more effective treatments for this cancer, particularly in the area of immunotherapy. The scientists also concluded that prompt treatment with immunotherapy is critical for a successful response. Many patients respond to this class of treatment if it is the first treatment given, but pre-treated patients or those with advanced disease did not respond as strongly.

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