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Chemotherapy is not frequently used for treating Merkel cell carcinoma. When this type of cancer is diagnosed before it has started to spread, surgery and radiation therapy are more commonly recommended as treatment options. However, if the cancer is diagnosed after it has spread beyond the regional lymph nodes, an oncologist might recommend chemotherapy as a potential treatment option.

Chemotherapy medications destroy cells that divide at unusually rapid rates. These medications may be injected into a vein or swallowed. Sometimes, if a tumor is detected very early in its development, intralesional chemotherapy might be recommended instead. In these cases, small doses of chemotherapy drugs are injected directly into cancerous lesions.

Because this specific type of skin cancer is relatively rare, the research conducted to date about chemotherapy for Merkel cell carcinoma has been limited. However, many medical professionals believe that:

  • Most Merkel cell carcinomas are chemo-sensitive (capable of shrinking in response to chemotherapy drugs).
  • Medications such as carboplatin, cisplatin and etoposide are most likely to produce the best outcomes, as they tend to produce favorable results in other tumors that share similar cellular characteristics.
  • The potential benefits of the treatment should also be weighed against the potential side effects, especially among older patients and those with compromised immune systems.

When considering Merkel cell carcinoma treatment options, patients can turn to the expert oncologists at Moffitt Cancer Center. Not only do we provide a comprehensive range of therapies, but we also consider each patient’s unique diagnosis to determine which options are most likely to produce the best possible results. This not only includes survival outcomes, but also aesthetic outcomes and overall quality of life.

Patients who opt for chemotherapy – whether alone or in conjunction with other treatment options – can receive several expert opinions in a single, convenient location at Moffitt. Our chemotherapy team includes several medical oncologists, nurses and supportive care providers, all of whom exclusively focus on the medical management of skin cancers.

For more information about chemotherapy for Merkel cell carcinoma, call 1-888-663-3488 or submit a new patient registration form online. Moffitt’s expert oncologists welcome patients with and without referrals, and we offer all types of chemotherapy in all of our locations.