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Rapidly Increasing Cases of Merkel Cell Carcinoma in Baby Boomers

Dermatologists are noticing an alarming increase of Merkel cell carcinoma cases in the aging baby boomer population. According to a new study that analyzed data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program at the National Cancer Institute, the incidence of Merkel cell carcinoma jumped 95 percent from 2000 to 2013. People 85-years and older are at the highest risk for developing the cancer.

In their study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, Researchers from the University of Washington determined that in 2010, there were around 2,800 cases of Merkel cell carcinoma in the U.S. and around 40 percent were terminal. This figure is a drastic juxtaposition to the national melanoma mortality rate, which is about 8 percent.

According to one of the study authors, Song Youn Park, MD, around 60 percent of diagnosed patients have the Merkel cell polyomavirus. Typically, there are no adverse reactions associated with the virus, however it can be prone to mutation upon certain exposures, like ultraviolet light. Twenty percent of cases occur in the epidermis cells and are caused by ultraviolet light.

The researchers predict that the rate of Merkel cell carcinoma will grow from 2835 cases in 2020 to 3284 cases in 2025. These findings could hopefully spark a greater effort to spread awareness about the cancer and prevention methods. "When it is diagnosed in early stages it has a better prognosis,” said Park. “We now have US Food and Drug Administration–approved immunotherapy drugs that work well in about 60% of patients."

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