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.
Background: Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is an aggressive, high-grade, cutaneous neuroendocrine tumour (NET). Agents blocking programmed death 1/programmed death ligand 1 have efficacy in metastatic MCC (mMCC), but half of patients do not derive durable benefit. Somatostatin analogues (SSAs) are commonly used to treat low- and moderate-grade NETs that express somatostatin receptors (SSTRs).
Objectives: To assess SSTR expression and the efficacy of SSAs in mMCC, a high-grade NET. Methods In this retrospective study of 40 patients with mMCC, SSTR expression was assessed radiologically by somatostatin receptor scintigraphy (SRS; n = 39) and/or immunohistochemically when feasible (n = 9). Nineteen patients (18 had SRS uptake in MCC tumours) were treated with SSA. Disease control was defined as progression-free survival (PFS) of ≥ 120 days after initiation of SSA.
Results: Thirty-three of 39 patients (85%) had some degree (low 52%, moderate 23%, high 10%) of SRS uptake. Of 19 patients treated with SSA, seven had a response-evaluable target lesion; three of these seven patients (43%) experienced disease control, with a median PFS of 237 days (range 152-358). Twelve of 19 patients did not have a response-evaluable lesion due to antecedent radiation; five of these 12 (42%) experienced disease control (median PFS of 429 days, range 143-1757). The degree of SSTR expression (determined by SRS and/or immunohistochemistry) did not correlate significantly with the efficacy endpoints.
Conclusions: In contrast to other high-grade NETs, mMCC tumours appear frequently to express SSTRs. SSAs can lead to clinically meaningful disease control with minimal side-effects. Targeting of SSTRs using SSA or other novel approaches should be explored further for mMCC.