The deadliest form of skin cancer is providing a glimpse into the desperate intersection of research dollars and the suffering wrought by rare diseases.
Diagnoses of Merkel cell carcinoma have tripled to about 1,500 a year, but there have been no well-controlled studies on the best treatment.
The first comprehensive report on symptoms and risk factors was published only last month. The cancer almost exclusively strikes Caucasians, over age 50, on sun-exposed skin. And while a weak immune system greatly increases risk, most patients have normal immunity.
In January, scientists announced they'd discovered a previously unknown virus lurking inside Merkel cell tumors. But they say if they had more funding they could have easily discovered that five years ago.
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