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.
Previous studies have reached conflicting conclusions regarding the proportion of Merkel cell carcinomas (MCCs) that contain the Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCPyV) and the clinical significance of tumor viral status. To address these controversies, we detected MCPyV large T antigen using immunohistochemistry with two distinct antibodies and MCPyV DNA using quantitative PCR. Tumors were called MCPyV-positive if two or more of these three assays indicated presence of this virus. A total of 53 of 282 (19%) MCC tumors in this cohort were virus-negative using this multimodal system. Immunohistochemistry with the CM2B4 antibody had the best overall performance (sensitivity = 0.882, specificity = 0.943) compared with the multimodal classification. Multivariate analysis including age, sex, and immunosuppression showed that, relative to MCC patients with virus-positive tumors, virus-negative MCC patients had significantly increased risk of disease progression (hazard ratio = 1.77, 95% confidence interval = 1.20-2.62) and death from MCC (hazard ratio = 1.85, 95% confidence interval = 1.19-2.89). We confirm that approximately 20% of MCCs are not driven by MCPyV and that such virus-negative MCCs, which can be quite reliably identified by immunohistochemistry using the CM2B4 antibody alone, represent a more aggressive subtype that warrants closer clinical follow-up.