Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is a skin cancer with 30% mortality and an incidence that has tripled in the past 15 years. There is agreement that surgical excision with negative margins is an appropriate therapeutic first step and that sentinel lymph node biopsy is a powerful prognostic indicator. After excision of detectable cancer, optimal adjuvant therapy is not well established. A role for adjuvant radiotherapy is increasingly supported by observational data. These data suggest that a regimen of surgery plus adjuvant radiotherapy is associated with both a lower loco-regional recurrence rate and longer overall survival when compared with surgery alone. In contrast, a role for adjuvant chemotherapy is not well supported. The rationale for chemotherapy in this disease is based on small-cell lung cancer, a more common neuroendocrine tumor for which chemotherapy is the primary treatment modality. Several issues call into question the routine use of adjuvant chemotherapy in MCC: lack of evidence for improved survival; the associated morbidity and mortality; important differences between small-cell lung cancer and MCC; and rapid development of resistance to chemotherapy. Importantly, chemotherapy suppresses immune function that plays an unusually large role in defending the host from the development and progression of MCC. Taken together, these arguments suggest that adjuvant radiation may be indicated for many MCC patients while adjuvant chemotherapy should largely be restricted to clinical trials.
Merkel cell carcinoma can be indolent: A case with 7 locoregional recurrences over 15 years highlights the importance of patient-tailored management
Patients who experience a recurrence of their Merkel cell carcinoma are often treated aggressively. We report a case of a man with an unusually long course of MCC over 15 years who had his MCC recur around his face or neck 7 times before eventually developing distant spread. Because he had 4 major medical problems at the time his MCC initially appeared, less aggressive therapies were chosen for his recurrences, and there was no evidence of disease for the vast majority of his 15-year course, during which he enjoyed excellent quality of life. This case emphasizes the importance of customizing care in MCC to give patients the best quality and quantity of life possible in their particular situation.