Merkel cell carcinoma of unknown primary origin.

July 1, 2012


Annals of Surgical Oncology

Publication Date

July 1, 2012


Deneve JL, Messina JL, Marzban SS, Gonzalez RJ, Walls BM, Fisher KJ, Chen YA, Cruse CW, Sondak VK, Zager JS



Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is a rare neuroendocrine tumor of the skin. MCC from an unknown primary origin (MCCUP) can present a diagnostic and therapeutic challenge. We describe our single-institution experience with the diagnosis and management of MCCUP presenting as metastases to lymph nodes.


After institutional review board approval, our institutional database spanning the years 1998-2010 was queried for patients with MCCUP. Clinicopathologic variables and outcomes were assessed.


From a database of 321 patients with MCC, 38 (12%) were identified as having nodal MCCUP. Median age was 67 years, and 79% were men. Nodal basins involved at presentation were cervical (58%), axillary/epitrochlear (21%), or inguinal/iliac (21%). CK20 staining was positive in 93% of tumors tested, and all were negative for thyroid transcription factor-1. Twenty-nine patients (76%) underwent complete regional lymph node dissection (LND): 3 had LND alone, ten had LND and adjuvant radiotherapy, and 16 underwent LND followed by chemoradiotherapy. Definitive chemoradiotherapy without surgery was provided to six patients (16%), while radiotherapy alone was provided to three (8%). Recurrence was observed in 34% of patients. Median recurrence-free survival was 35 months. Ten patients (26%) died, five of disease and five of other causes. The median overall survival was 104 months.


Nodal MCCUP is a rare disease affecting primarily elderly white men. Recurrence is observed in approximately one-third of patients, with a 104 month median overall survival after a multimodal treatment approach consisting of surgery along with adjuvant chemotherapy and radiotherapy in the majority of patients.

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