Merkel cell carcinoma in patients with long-term ingestion of arsenic

Sheng Yow Ho, Yi Chang Tsai, Ming Chin Lee, How Ran Guo

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24 Citations (Scopus)


Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is a rare primary neuroendocrine carcinoma of the skin, mostly occurring late in life on sun-exposed body parts. Little is known about the specific etiological factors in the pathogenesis of MCC. A previous report indicated that arsenic exposure might cause MCC, which might be another specific type of skin cancer associated with arsenic exposure. On the southwest coast of Taiwan, high arsenic levels in artesian well water have been documented, and various diseases associated with arsenic exposure have been found to be prevalent in this area. We report two pathologically confirmed cases of MCC in patients who had histories of long-term ingestion of arsenic from drinking water. The tumors were on the anterior chest wall, an area less exposed to the sun, in both cases. The literature on the dose-response relationship between arsenic exposure and MCC is limited. We estimated that the total arsenic ingested by these two cases was around 14.7 and 2.6 gm, respectively. We also tried to assess the cancer risk on the basis of the estimated doses of arsenic exposure and the cancer risk model developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The estimated lifetime target cancer risk was 1.3 × 10-2 in Case 1 and 2.3 × 10-3 in Case 2. Both are much higher than the 10-6 upper limit on lifetime cancer risk put forth by the U.S. EPA health protection standard. We believe that arsenic intoxication played an important role in the carcinogenic process of MCC in our cases.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)188-192
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Occupational Health
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2005 Mar 1

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health

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