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.
Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is a rare but highly aggressive skin cancer with neuroendocrine features. MCC pathogenesis is associated with either the presence of Merkel cell polyomavirus or chronic exposure to ultraviolet light (UV), which can cause a characteristic pattern of multiple DNA mutations. Notably, in the Northern hemisphere, the majority of MCC cases are of viral aetiology; by contrast, in areas with high UV exposure, UV-mediated carcinogenesis is predominant. The two aetiologies share similar clinical, histopathological and prognostic characteristics. MCC presents with a solitary cutaneous or subcutaneous nodule, most frequently in sun-exposed areas. In fact, UV exposure is probably involved in both viral-mediated and non-viral-mediated carcinogenesis, by contributing to immunosuppression or DNA damage, respectively. Confirmation of diagnosis relies on analyses of histological features and immunological marker expression profiles of the lesion. At primary diagnosis, loco-regional metastases are already present in ∼30% of patients. Excision of the tumour is the first-line therapy; if not feasible, radiotherapy can often effectively control the disease. Chemotherapy was the only alternative in advanced-stage or refractory MCC until several clinical trials demonstrated the efficacy of immune-checkpoint inhibitors.