Approximately 20% of the tumours in humans are associated with contagious viral agents. Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare and highly aggressive tumour which may originate from the epidermal stratum basale, although the origin is still controversial. This tumour is most commonly found in elderly and immunocompromised patients in sun exposed areas, especially in the head and neck regions. Merkel cell carcinoma often causes a diagnostic challenge with a dramatically increasing incidence. In 2008, a DNA tumour virus, a polyomavirus (Merkel cell polyomavirus) was detected in Merkel cell carcinomas, and this finding helped to understand the etiological background of the disease. The infectious - probably viral - etiology resulted in a paradigm shift in pathogenesis and, hopefully, in therapy as well. This review summarizes the current knowledge related to Merkel cell carcinoma and the first oncogenic human polyomavirus, the Merkel cell polyomavirus, to promote the clinical adaptation of the information.
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