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What are the possible causes of Merkel cell carcinoma?

The exact cause of Merkel cell carcinoma is unknown, but it's thought that it develops in the Merkel cells, which are the cells at the bottom of the epidermis (the top layer of skin). These cells may be related to your sense of touch. Researchers aren't sure what causes the cells to become cancerous in some people, but it may be related to certain genetic abnormalities. The development of Merkel cell carcinoma may also be related to sun exposure and a weakened immune system.

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Medicine
Risk factors for Merkel cell carcinoma include the following:
  • Being exposed to a lot of natural sunlight.
  • Being exposed to artificial sunlight, such as from tanning beds or psoralen and ultraviolet A (PUVA) therapy for psoriasis.
  • Having an immune system weakened by disease, such as chronic lymphocytic leukemia or HIV infection.
  • Taking drugs that make the immune system less active, such as after an organ transplant.
  • Having a history of other types of cancer.
  • Being older than 50 years, male, or white.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.