Reply to George and Merkle Cell Cancer

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George is the Administrator for the Merkel Cell Cancer group, an online support group within Google Groups. The group sent questions and contacted the main office at the Women's Health Center of Excellence at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, where I work. Joining this support group requires a user to identify themselves by first name or initials and describe their merkel cell cancer experience. Membership is dependent upon participation in the group. Members can openly share their stories as a patient with Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC), or as a family member supporting someone with MCC.

The term carcinoma is malignant by definition: carcinomas invade surrounding tissues and organs, and may spread to other areas of the body and organs, such as a lymph node, the liver, lung, brain, or the bones. An infrequent but highly malignant neoplasm (various malignant neoplasms are characterized by the proliferation of anaplastic cells that tend to invade surrounding tissue and spread to new body sites), MCC is a type of skin cancer. Characteristically it starts in a sun-exposed area (of the head, neck, arms or legs) in Caucasians 60-80 years of age as a firm, painless, shiny lump that can be red, pink, or blue in color and vary in size from less than a quarter of an inch (a half cm) to more than two inches (5 cm) in diameter.

The tumor (an abnormal growth of tissue resulting from uncontrolled, progressive multiplication of cells and serving no physiological function) grows rapidly and often metastasizes (spreads) to other parts of the body. Even relatively small tumors are capable of metastasis, particularly to the regional, nearby lymph nodes (any of the small bodies located along the lymphatic vessels, particularly at the neck, armpit, and groin, that filter bacteria and foreign particles from lymph fluid). During infection, lymph nodes may become swollen with activated lymphocytes. Merkel cell carcinoma follows an aggressive course like that of melanoma, and has a predilection to spread to (in order of frequency) liver, bone, brain, lung, and skin. The prognosis (outlook) is accordingly poor.

There are limited support groups for merkel cell. The Merkel Cell Cancer group referred to in this post, headed by George, http://groups.google.com/group/merkelcell, is a closed discussion group with no commercial influence or interest. The membership is open to anyone that has had the Merkel Cell Cancer experience as either a patient, family member, or caregiver of a patient. The public membership statement associated with this Merkel Cell Cancer group explains that this is a forum "where you can openly discuss your experience with MCC, as a patient with MCC, or a family member supporting someone with MCC. We are not health care professionals nor are we offering medical advice, just the experience of having this cancer." Joining this group requires approval from the manager - George.

I hope this helps those who have to deal with MCC in one way or another. George, I appreciate the fact that you contacted the Women's Health Center of Excellence at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center and asked about support gtoups. For those of you interested in learning about support groups, please read the posts I have dedicated to this topic:

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About the Author


BA, MPH

Steve shares what he learned from his personal experience with cancer.

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