Merkel Cell Carcinoma (MCC) is treated within the GW Cancer Center's Cutaneous Oncology Program. MCC is an extremely rare, but aggressive neuroendocrine skin cancer that is at high risk of recurring and spreading (metastasizing) throughout the body, with most recurrences taking place within two years after diagnosis of the primary tumor.

  • Its name comes from the similarity of these cancer cells to normal Merkel cells in the skin that are thought to be associated with sensory nerves.
  • While 40 times rarer than melanoma, it kills about one in three affected patients compared with one in nine for melanoma. Approximately 700 people die from MCC each year in the United States.
  • MCC most often arises on sun-exposed areas in fair-skinned individuals over age 50.
  • MCC often requires an aggressive individualized treatment plan which includes diagnostic imaging with positron emission tomography/computerized tomography (PET/CT), surgery and lymph node evaluation by sentinel lymph node biopsy, adjuvant radiation therapy, and possibly chemotherapy or immunotherapy.

Merkel Cell Carcinoma is treated within the GW Cutaneous Oncology Program

Male doctor with female patient
  • Comprehensive Skin Cancer and Supportive Oncodermatology Services
  • The GW Cancer Center's Cutaneous Oncology Program is a leading comprehensive melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer treatment center in Washington, D.C. Every skin cancer is different, and as a result, we take an individualized approach to each skin cancer patient. Our multidisciplinary team includes specialists in medical and surgical dermatology, head and neck surgery, plastic surgery, medical oncology, radiation oncology, dermatopathology, and genetic counseling. Our team works closely together to offer patients the most personalized treatment plan for their skin cancer, no matter how common, rare or complex. Together, your team will develop a treatment plan tailored to your disease, your concerns, and your lifestyle considerations.

Cutaneous Oncology Program Information

The GW Cancer Center's Cutaneous Oncology program oversees the care of patients with all types of active skin cancers, as well as patients with suspected skin cancers who are in need of diagnostic testing or surveillance. Skin cancers are more common than all other cancers combined, and the incidence of skin cancers is rising faster than any other type of cancer. The Cutaneous Oncology Program provides highly specialized care for all types of skin cancer.

We also provide care for patients experiencing skin-related side effects from any type of cancer or its treatment through our Supportive Oncodermatology Clinic, including:

  • Skin reactions to cancer chemotherapy
  • Skin reactions to radiation therapy
  • Hair or nail changes due to cancer chemotherapy
  • Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD)

Our personalized and multidisciplinary approach allows patients to have access to a wide variety of physicians during their visit, including:

  • Dermatologists evaluate and monitor suspicious lesions and help to manage the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy
  • Dermatopathologists evaluate tissue slides of possible cancerous lesions
  • Dermatologic surgeons and surgical oncologists work together to most effectively remove malignant lesions using cutting edge surgical therapies like Mohs micrographic surgery
  • Radiation oncologists add radiation therapy to bolster cure rates
  • Medical oncologists add chemo and immunotherapy to treat more advanced skin cancers
  • Genetic counselors help patients understand and manage their risk for cancer

Our program is broken into four specialized weekly multidisciplinary clinics which include:

Program Information

Approach to Treatment

You will be cared for by a comprehensive team that combines leading experts with the latest technological and research advances. Our multidisciplinary team works together to create a personalized treatment plan that supports all of your medical, nutritional and emotional needs. At the GW Cancer Center's Cutaneous Oncology Program, you will have access to:

  • A multidisciplinary treatment team of world-renowned experts in dermatologic oncology, dermatologic and Mohs surgery, dermatopathology, head and neck surgery, reconstructive surgery, radiation oncology, medical oncology and radiology
  • Clinical trials
  • Advanced radiation oncology techniques including external beam radiation therapy (EBRT), intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) and surface mold computer-optimized high-dose-rate bracytherapy (SMBT)
  • Phototherapy
  • Mohs Surgery, including using immunostains for Melanoma, Merkel Cell Carcinoma and other aggresive or rare skin cancers.
Skin Cancer Information for Patients

Skin cancers are more common than all other cancers combined. The incidence of skin cancers is also rising faster than any other cancer. Skin cancers can include:

Research and Clinical Trials

The GW Cancer Center's Cutaneous Oncology Program offers a variety of clinical trials. Patients can also enroll in our blood, tissue and database collection studies for melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma, Merkel cell carcinoma and cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. For more information about enrolling in a clinical trial or collection study, please contact Janene Herring, Cutaneous Oncology Program coordinator at (202) 741-2829 or email

Mohs Micrographic Surgery (MMS)

Developed in the 1940s by Dr. Frederic Mohs, MMS is an outpatient procedure that involves surgically removing the visible tumor, along with a thin layer of normal-appearing tissue around and beneath the tumor.

Learn more >>

Page last updated: July 2019

Melanoma and Cutaneous Oncology Program Providers

Dr. Bruce Abell
Specialty: General Surgery, Surgery, Trauma Center
Dr. Friedman, MD headshot
Specialty: Dermatology
Specialty: Radiology, Radiation Oncology
Faysal Haroun
Specialty: Cancer & Blood Disorders, Medicine
Vishal Patel
Specialty: Dermatology
Specialty: Radiation Oncology, Radiology
Robert Siegel, MD with patient
Specialty: Cancer & Blood Disorders
Punam Thakkar
Specialty: Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery