Our team based in Seattle conducted a comprehensive review including evolving trends in the management of Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC). This summary covers key decision points, including recommended work-up during initial diagnosis, treatment options for MCC when it’s in one place or has spread, management of recurrent MCC, and new treatments that are showing promise with fewer side effects and good results. This review gives valuable information on how to handle MCC overall and emphasizes new methods that are effective and less toxic on patients.
Objectives: Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is a rare, aggressive neuroendocrine skin cancer with higher incidence among whites, elderly, and immunosuppressed patients. Although immunosuppressed MCC patients are at higher risk of recurrence and MCC-related death, it is unknown whether immunosuppression type is associated with differential outcomes.
Methods: We retrospectively evaluated 89 nonmetastatic MCC patients with a diagnosis of chronic immunosuppression. Immunosuppression was categorized as chronic lymphocytic leukemia (31% of cohort), other hematologic malignancies (18%), solid organ transplant (21%), autoimmune disease (21%), and human immunodeficiency virus acquired deficiency syndrome (8%). Progression-free survival (PFS) and MCC-specific survival (MSS) were estimated with the cumulative incidence function. Overall survival (OS) was estimated by the Kaplan-Meier method.
Results: With a median follow-up of 52 months, 53 deaths occurred (42 from MCC, 7 unknown, and 4 non-MCC). Two-year PFS, MSS, and OS were 30%, 55%, and 52%, respectively. Human immunodeficiency virus/acquired deficiency syndrome and solid organ transplant patients were diagnosed with MCC at a younger age (median 55 and 59 y, respectively) and with more advanced stage disease compared with other immunosuppressed subgroups. PFS did not significantly differ among the 5 immunosuppression subgroups (P=0.30), but significant differences were observed in MSS and OS (both P=0.01). Controlling for potential confounders for OS, including age and stage, immunosuppression type was still significantly associated with risk of death (P=0.01).
Conclusions: Among immunosuppressed MCC patients, recurrent MCC is the major cause of mortality. The risk of death from MCC differs among immunosuppression types, suggesting important biological differences in host-tumor immune interactions.