Merkel Cell Carcinoma


For information about the Merkel virus antibody (serology) test, see the Serology overview page and the Serology FAQ page.


We are physicians and researchers who work on Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC), a rare and aggressive skin cancer. If you, your patient, or a loved one has recently been diagnosed with MCC, we hope you will find this website a great resource for information on the many pressing decisions that will need to be made. The information on this website includes frequently asked questions (FAQ) about MCC, the symptoms, causes, treatment and multidisciplinary management by established teams of doctors with expertise in MCC, a glossary of terms relating to Merkel cell carcinoma that patients need to be familiar with, clinical photos of MCC tumors, as well as staging and prognosis information.


To improve the treatment and diagnosis of Merkel cell carcinoma we have formed an MCC Multicenter Interest Group (MMIG) composed of 198 physicians and researchers from many institutions in 10 countries.


MCC patients have a Merkel cell carcinoma discussion/support group at "Google Groups."


Several Seattle-based patients have begun a support group for MCC patients.  They meet each Tuesday in Seattle.  For details, please click here.



On Thursday, March 29, 2012, Dr. Paul Nghiem of the University of Washington Department of Medicine, Division of Dermatology, was honored at an event celebrating his selection as the first Michael Piepkorn Endowed Chair in Dermatology Research chair holder. Faculty, family, colleagues, staff and friends attended this festive occasion.



A video message has been created to express appreciation to those who make medical research possible including taxpayers who support the NIH,
the ACS, patients, and their loved ones.




For detail on any of these news items click here.

  • On September 8th, 2014, we had our 9th Annual "MCC dinner meeting”. Over 200 patients, family members, clinicians, scientists, and trainees enjoyed a lovely buffet dinner, music, lab tours and a presentation on the status of research and clinical trials in this cancer, sponsored by generous patients and donors.
  • Remembering Colin Johnston & making a difference for future MCC patients—today would have been Colin's 29th birthday. Our team is motivated, and fed with delicious fruit, a gift from his Mom, Betsy Johnston
  • Youtube video of Dr. Nghiem's March 5, 2014 lecture entitled, "Clinical utility of a Novel Assay for Tracking Tumor Burden in Merkel Cell Carcinoma"
  • The Yolles family has created the Monica Yolles Fund designed to develop single fraction radiation therapy for recurrent or metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma. Using this approach, only a single dose (or 'fraction') of radiation is given. This technique aims to improve the ability of the immune system to fight MCC. January 2014
  • Dr. Shailender Bhatia will serve as the Principal Investigator for a new clinical trial of an immune stimulating agent, GLA-SE, for Merkel cell carcinoma patients with recurrent or metastatic lesions that are directly injectable (in skin or possibly lymph nodes that are palpable). This represents the third new immune therapy trial launched in Seattle in the past 3 years (others were IL-12-electroporation and polyomavirus-specific adoptive T cell therapy). Information about the GLA-SE trial is available here. January 2014
  • Dr. Nghiem was honored to deliver the 38th MH Samitz Lectureship at University of Pennsylvania on November 7, 2013. See PDF of program here.
  • 2013 MCC Dinner Meeting - This year saw more than 140 guests attend our annual dinner and enjoy camaraderie, fine food, lab tours, and hear more about the recent progress in our research since we were last gathered together.
  • Presentations at the 'World Cutaneous Malignancies Congress' by Drs. Bhatia and Nghiem were featured in ASCO Post, a news magazine distributed to over 27,000 cancer care providers around the world.
  • Progress on Merkel cell carcinoma in the past 5 years in Seattle was selected as one of the 'top 10 scientific achievements' among all projects affiliated with the Cancer Center Support Grant by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
  • Olga Afanasiev presented her dissertation, 4/5/13, titled "Merkel cell polyomavirus-specific T cell responses, immune evasion mechanisms & immune therapy in Merkel cell carcinoma" to an enthusiastic audience. This work has resulted in 8 original publications (4 first/co-first author, 4 contributing author), and 3 reviews/chapters.
  • 2012 MCC Dinner Meeting - Over 100 people joined together on November 5th to enjoy dinner, tours of the research lab, and an overview of recent progress in Merkel cell carcinoma.
  • The family and friends of Janet Canning establish a research fund to support the study of virus-negative MCC.  September 2012
  • Dr. Nghiem receives the American Cancer Society Legacy & Leadership Award: Find Cures Award. Legacy & Leadership Celebration, September 13, 2012
  • Dr. Nghiem was invited to participate at the Society of Dermatology Physician Assistants Summer Dermatology Conference, July 2012 in Seattle, WA. Listen to the podcast “Merkel cell carcinoma: Toward optimal management of an often-lethal skin malignancy.”
  • Dr. Paul Nghiem appointed Professor, Division of Dermatology, Department of Medicine; Adjunct Professor, Department of Pathology & Department of Oral Health Sciences, July 2012.
  • The Second Annual Milt Tarbox Golf Tournament, occured on August 13, 2012, at Laurel Lane Country Club, West Kingston,RI, organized by family and friends of Milton R. Tarbox in his honor to fundraise for Merkel cell carcinoma research.
  • In memory of Staffan Svenby, beloved father, husband, grandfather, his wife, Vivy Svenby, and friends have made several generous donations to MCC research. They also organized a series of three lecture-meetings in April 2012 in Gothenburg, Malmo, and Stockholm, Sweden, at which Dr. Ngheim spoke.
  • KIRO 7 / CBS reported on the interleukin-12 electroporation trial. Click here for the video. March, 2012.
  • The Zent family has made a generous gift to MCC research in memory of their father/husband, Larry Zent. Click here for details. February, 2012.
  • World's first interleukin-12 electroporation treatment for immune therapy of Merkel Cell Carcinoma. January, 2012.
  • Dr. Nghiem was appointed to the Michael Piepkorn Endowed Chair in Dermatology Research. October, 2011.
  • The Nghiem lab is awarded an R01 grant from the NCI to study humoral and cellular immunity in polyomavirus-linked Merkel cell carcinoma. August, 2011.
  • Paul Nghiem discusses Americans' higher incidence of skin cancer on their left sides most likely due to sun exposure while driving in our cars with Chris Sullivan from KIRO: link. June, 2011.
  • Dr. Paulson's study of risk of melanoma and Merkel cell carciånoma shows that about one in ten of these cancers is likely associated with exposure while driving because these cancers occur more often on the left arm than the right arm. In Australia, where drivers sit on the opposite side of the car, the risk is reversed from sun-associated skin cancers: paper, link. June, 2011.
  • Merkel cell carcinoma and its associated virus are featured in the NCI Cancer Bulletin. Click here for a link to the article. May, 2011.
  • Dr. Kelly Paulson reports in the Journal of Clinical Oncology that "killer CD8 T cells," when present inside MCC tumors, predict excellent survival after MCC diagnosis. A pdf of the article can be downloaded here. April, 2011.
  • Dr. Nghiem gives a talk on the good and bad of UV radiation at the 35th Hawaii Dermatology Seminar, March, 2011.
  • The data and analysis to create a new staging system for Merkel cell carcinoma, now used worldwide, was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology in November 2010. A pdf can be downloaded here.
  • Dr. Kelly Paulson reports in Cancer Research that antibodies to the Merkel cell polyomavirus T antigen are common among MCC patients and can be used as a dynamic marker of MCC disease burden, including as a blood test for recurrent disease. A pdf of the article can be downloaded here. October, 2010.
  • Olga Afanasiev, MD/PhD student, is awarded a four year NIH "F30" grant to study MCC and immunity, with a score in the top 2% of similar grants. July, 2010.
  • Kelly Paulson completes PhD in three amazing full-time years. She will be a key author on more than 12 publications. May 2010.
  • Kelly Paulson & others publish a paper in the Journal of the National Cancer Inst. showing that approximately 50% of people have antibodies for the Merkel cell polyomavirus. Sept 2009
  • Olga Afanasiev, a graduate student in UW's Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP), joins the lab to study MCC's cause and potential therapies. Aug 2009
  • Drs. Nghiem and Iyer describe MCC in non-medical terms in an article for Skin Cancer Foundation Journal. June 2009
  • Dr. Iyer is successful in petitioning CDC & WHO to establish ICD-9 codes specific for MCC. This will greatly improve the ability to obtain insurance approval for procedures for MCC patients, as well as track costs, incidence, etc for this cancer.More information on the ICD9 codes for Merkel cell carcinoma can be found here. A PDF can be downloaded here. March 2009
  • Dr. Nghiem describes the warning signs of Merkel cell carcinoma on Seattle's King 5. View the video here. March 2009
  • The NIH sponsors an MCC workshop in Rockville, MD. January 2009
  • Kelly Paulson & others publish the most detailed view of Merkel cell carcinoma genetics. November 2008
  • The first study to characterize the presentation of Merkel cell carcinoma in a large number of patients is published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. March 2008
  • A new virus is identified, called Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCV or MCPyV), in Science. This virus is present in the majority of MCC tumors. February 2008
  • To download a pdf version of the information on this website click here.


We gratefully acknowledge our funding sources:



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Last Updated: 1/27/2014

Seattle Multidisciplinary MCC TeamUniversity of Washington MCC ResearchFred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center Seattle Cancer Care Alliance/Skin Cancer