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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.