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Arch Surg. 1999 Apr;134(4):388-92; discussion 392-3.

Multimodality management of Merkel cell carcinoma.

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  • 1Department of Surgery, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston 02114, USA. Ott.Mark@MGH.Harvard.Edu



Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare dermal neuroendocrine carcinoma whose optimal treatment and prognostic factors are poorly defined. We hypothesize that high-risk patients with Merkel cell carcinoma are best treated with multimodality therapy.


A retrospective review of all patients (N = 33) with Merkel cell carcinoma treated at the Massachusetts General Hospital from January 1, 1980, to August 24,1997. Median follow-up time was 37 months (range, 6-157 months).


Adequate data for evaluation were available for 31 patients. Male to female distribution was 14 men and 17 women, with a median patient age of 68 years.


Stage at presentation; factors associated with recurrence; and the effects of surgery, radiation therapy (XRT), and chemotherapy on recurrence, salvage, and survival rates.


There were 12 extremity, 11 head and neck, and 8 truncal tumors. There were 22 isolated primary tumors, 8 with additional clinically positive lymph nodes, and 1 with distant disease. Therapy was local excision with or without XRT in 19 patients, local resection and lymphadenectomy with or without XRT in 8 patients, and XRT alone in 4 patients with head and neck tumors. Fifteen patients developed recurrences (7 local, 8 nodal, and 10 distant). Median time to recurrence was 8 months (range, 3-48 months). There were 7 tumor-related deaths, 6 of which were associated with truncal lesions (P<.001). No locoregional recurrences occurred in patients with margins of resection of 2 cm or greater or adequate XRT. A multivariate analysis selected truncal location (P = .005) and nodal disease (P = .05) as predictors of mortality. Remission was possible in 5 patients with locoregional and 2 patients with distant recurrences.


Merkel cell carcinoma is an aggressive dermal cancer with frequent nodal metastases; truncal tumors have the worst prognosis. Locoregional recurrence correlates with inadequate margins and lack of XRT, but remission is possible with multimodality therapy.

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