Aging population is main contributing factor
Occurrences of Merkel cell carcinoma have increased by 95 percent in the last decade, a figure the lead investigator of a national study calls “astonishing.”
The rare but dangerous skin disease is becoming more common as the population ages and is outpacing the growth of melanoma. Worse still, the increase is likely to continue, according to Song Youn Park, MD, University of Washington. “We think it’s going to increase a lot in the coming 10 years,” said Dr. Park.
The most recent estimate of the incidence of Merkel cell carcinoma in the United States was about 1500 cases in 2007.
Park and colleagues estimated that there were roughly 2800 cases in the United States in 2010, but she said about 40% of these ended the patients’ lives. In comparison, mortality from melanoma is approximately 8 percent.
“[Merkel cell carcinoma] is rare, and might have been under-recognized,” Park said at the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) 2018 Annual Meeting. Indeed, dermatologists can practice for years without diagnosing a patient with this cancer. But early diagnosis is important because outcomes are better the earlier it is treated.
In absolute numbers, which are increased by the growth in population, as well as the rise in incidence, the rate of Merkel cell carcinoma shot up 95 percent from 2000 to 2013, the researchers report. In comparison, the total number of solid tumor cases increased by 15 percent, and melanoma cases increased by 57 percent.
The aging of the Baby Boom generation is driving this spike in Merkel cell carcinoma, as the cancer becomes more common with age.