Different types of treatment are available for patients with Merkel Cell Carcinoma. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. (A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer)
Your treatment options depend on the stage of cancer, your overall health and your preferences about treatment. In metastatic disease, the location and extent of the Merkel Cell is also an important consideration.
You do not have to rush to make a decision, so consider the options carefully. Ask questions if you do not understand any aspect of treatment or the terms your doctors are using. Research shows that cancer survivors of all educational levels and backgrounds can have a hard time communicating with their health care team. One of the best ways to improve communication with your health care team is to prepare your visits so that you can best make use of the time.
A treatment plan is a way to deal with both the short and long term goals of managing your Merkel Cell Carcinoma. There are several treatment options for your cancer, depending on the cancer stage and the patient’s age and general health. Patients have time for second opinions and to talk through all of their options with their doctors and develop a treatment plan that best fits their needs.
One or more of the following surgical procedures may be used to treat Merkel cell carcinoma:
Wide Local Excision
- The cancer is cut from the skin along with some of the tissue around it. A sentinel lymph node biopsy may be done during the wide local excision procedure. If there is cancer in the lymph nodes, a lymph node dissection also may be done.
Lymph Node Dissection
- A surgical procedure in which the lymph nodes are removed and a sample of tissue is checked under a microscope for signs of cancer. For a regional lymph node dissection, some of the lymph nodes in the tumor area are removed; for a radical lymph node dissection, most or all of the lymph nodes in the tumor area are removed. This procedure is also called lymphadenectomy
Radiation Therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy. External radiation therapy uses a machine outside the body to send radiation toward the cancer. Internal radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near the cancer. The way the radiation therapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can reach cancer cells throughout the body (systemic chemotherapy). The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
Social networking and online support groups are important tools. Reaching out to others who have or have had similar experiences can provide you with valuable insights. Check out Cancer Support Community's The Living Room
for more information on clinically facilitated support online.