After treatment, many patients are concerned about a potential Merkel cell carcinoma recurrence. The cancer can come back at any point after a patient’s initial treatment has been completed – or it might not come back at all. While it’s impossible to predict whether Merkel cell carcinoma will return, anyone who has been diagnosed with skin cancer should be especially vigilant about participating in routine screenings. If Merkel cell carcinoma does come back, unusual skin changes can often be detected in their earliest stages during follow-up assessments.
Although each patient’s follow-up plan depends on a number of individualized factors, an oncologist might suggest the following routine to monitor for the signs of a Merkel cell carcinoma recurrence:
- Physical exams every three to four months in the first few years after treatment
- Physical exams twice per year after a cancer-free period of several years
- Occasional PET/CT scans to check for signs of recurrence elsewhere in the body (especially for patients who had large tumors or later-stage cancers)
Merkel cell carcinoma survivors are also advised to complete regular self-exams to check for the potential signs of a recurrence. New lumps or skin lesions should be immediately reported to an oncologist, as should any unusual symptoms, such as unexplained fatigue or loss of appetite. Because Merkel cell carcinomas are uncommon and the warning signs can be difficult to detect, survivors are encouraged to find an oncologist who has significant experience in treating unusual forms of skin cancer.
There are several different therapies that might be recommended to treat recurrent Merkel cell carcinoma. If the recurrence is limited to a single, small area, a second surgery might be an option. If a patient’s lymph nodes were not removed during the first course of treatment, regional lymph node dissection might also be considered. If recurrent cancer is found in the lymph nodes or distant sites, radiation therapy and/or systemic chemotherapy may be the best course of action.
Anyone who is displaying signs of a potential Merkel cell carcinoma recurrence can turn to Moffitt Cancer Center for prompt diagnosis and treatment. We’re a trusted – and experienced – leader in cutaneous oncology.