What are my chances of recurring skin cancer and could I be at risk for Merkel?
Question: I recently had a small basal cell carcinoma (12mm in diameter) removed from my forearm. I have a history of blistering sunburns (mostly as a teen) and get sunburn from time to time as an adult in my early 30s. I don’t use tanning booths and very rarely sunbathe. My maternal grandfather has been battling Merkel cell carcinoma for over a year. What are my chances of recurring skin cancer, and could I be at risk of Merkel?
Dr. Suh: While Merkel cell carcinoma of the skin is rare, given your history and risk factors, it may be possible. Risk factors for Merkel cell carcinoma of the skin include:
- Excessive exposure to UV radiation: Exposure to ultraviolet light, such as the light that comes from the sun or from tanning beds, increases your risk of Merkel cell carcinoma. The majority of Merkel cell carcinomas appear on areas of the skin frequently exposed to sun.
- Weakened immune system: People with weakened immune systems — including those with HIV infection or those taking drugs that suppress the immune response — are more likely to develop Merkel cell carcinoma.
- History of other skin cancers: Merkel cell carcinoma is associated with the development of other skin cancers, such as basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma.
- Older age: Risk of Merkel cell carcinoma increases as you age, likely due to accumulated exposure to UV radiation. It is most common in people older than age 50, though it can occur at any age.
- Fair skin: Merkel cell carcinoma usually forms in people who have light-colored skin. Caucasians are much more likely to be affected by this skin cancer than are those of darker-colored skin.
Based on the information you’ve provided, I would say you are at risk for new basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas of the skin. I highly recommend you continue to consult with your doctor and consider seeing a dermatologist every six months.
I wish you the best of luck and as you enjoy the coming summer months, don’t forget to wear the sunblock! *
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David Suh, M.D., is a radiation oncologist at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® in Philadelphia. He earned his medical degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, followed by a radiation oncology residency at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. He went on to become Clinical Director of Radiation Oncology at Methodist Hospital, a division of Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, where he also developed and implemented programs in Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT) and prostate brachytherapy.
* This content is provided and sponsored by Cancer Treatment Centers of America®. The information is provided for general information only and should not be used for diagnosis or treatment, or as a substitute for consultation with a physician or health care professional. If you have specific questions or concerns about your health, you should consult your health care professional.