Management and Prognosis of Cardiac Metastatic Merkel Cell Carcinoma: A Case–Control Study and Literature Review

Akaike T, Cahill K, Akaike G, Huynh ET, Hippe DS, Shinohara MM, Liao J, Apisarnthanarax S, Parvathaneni U, Hall E, Bhatia S, Cheng RK, Nghiem P, Tseng YD

This case study looks at 9 patients who developed cardiac metastases, a tricky situation on which very little data is currently available. We hope that by describing 9 cases, this will provide an easily accessible road map for clinicians around the world when this difficult situation arises. In many cases, the combination of limited ‘palliative’ radiation with immune therapy proved beneficial.

Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC), an aggressive neuroendocrine skin cancer, has a high rate (20%) of distant metastasis. Within a prospective registry of 582 patients with metastatic MCC (mMCC) diagnosed between 2003–2021, we identified 9 (1.5%) patients who developed cardiac metastatic MCC (mMCC). We compared overall survival (OS) between patients with cardiac and non-cardiac metastases in a matched case–control study. Cardiac metastasis was a late event (median 925 days from initial MCC diagnosis). The right heart was predominantly involved (8 of 9; 89%). Among 7 patients treated with immunotherapy, 6 achieved a complete or partial response of the cardiac lesion. Among these 6 responders, 5 received concurrent cardiac radiotherapy (median 20 Gray) with immunotherapy; 4 of 5 did not have local disease progression or recurrence in the treated cardiac lesion. One-year OS was 44%, which was not significantly different from non-cardiac mMCC patients (45%, p = 0.96). Though it occurs relatively late in the disease course, cardiac mMCC responded to immunotherapy and/or radiotherapy and was not associated with worse prognosis compared to mMCC at other anatomic sites. These results are timely as cardiac mMCC may be increasingly encountered in the era of immunotherapy as patients with metastatic MCC live longer.