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Br J Plast Surg. 1996 Oct;49(7):491-6.

Merkel cell carcinoma of the skin.

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  • 1Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, UK.


Primary neuroendocrine carcinoma of the skin or Merkel cell carcinoma is an aggressive primary neoplasm. It is commonly seen in the elderly, on the head, neck and extremities, where it can mimic a benign or less malignant skin tumour. Pathological examination shows a generally dense growth of small dark cells, with immunohistochemical evidence of neuroendocrine differentiation. The microscopic appearance is very similar to metastatic oat cell carcinoma from the lung and this must be excluded by clinical means and appropriate imaging studies. In this study we present 13 new cases of Merkel cell carcinoma (the largest published series in the UK) and summarize 214 cases from the literature in which the survival data are given. In our series, 5 of 13 patients died from spread of the Merkel cell carcinoma. From this and other studies, it appears that early diagnosis and wide local excision may be the only way to prolong survival. No other adjuvant therapy has proved effective.

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