Primary Treatment Selection for Clinically Node-Negative Merkel Cell Carcinoma of the Head and Neck

October 20, 2020


American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery

Publication Date

October 20, 2020


Daniel Jacobs, Kelly Olino, MD, Henry S. Park, MD, MPH, James Clune, MD, Shayan Cheraghlou, Michael Girardi, MD, Barbara Burtness, MD, Harriet Kluger, MD, and Benjamin L. Judson, MD

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This team from Yale used data from 3500 patients in the National Cancer DataBase to reveal that MCC care at major academic centers with skin cancer expertise both followed cancer guidelines more closely and was associated with a 30% decrease in the chance of death as compared to MCC patients who were treated at other centers.


Objective: Merkel cell carcinoma practice guidelines recommend sentinel lymph node biopsy after wide local excision for the initial management of clinically node-negative disease without distant metastases (cN0M0). Despite guideline publication, treatment selection remains variable. We hypothesized that receipt of guideline-recommended care would be more common in patients evaluated at academic centers and institutions with high melanoma case volumes and that such therapy would be associated with improved overall survival.

Study design: Retrospective cohort analysis.

Setting: The National Cancer Database from 2004 to 2015.

Methods: A total of 3500 patients were included. We utilized Kaplan-Meier analysis and logistic and Cox proportional hazard regressions. Survival analysis was performed on inverse probability-weighted cohorts.

Results: There has been a trend toward evaluation at academic programs at a rate of 1.58% of patients per year (95% CI, 1.06%-2.11%) since 2004. However, the percentage of patients receiving guideline-compliant primary tumor excision and lymph node evaluation has plateaued at approximately 50% since 2012. Guideline-compliant surgical management was more commonly provided to patients evaluated at academic programs than nonacademic programs but only when those institutions had a high melanoma case volume (odds ratio, 2.01; 95% CI, 1.62-2.48). Receipt of guideline-compliant primary tumor excision and lymph node evaluation was associated with improved overall survival (hazard ratio, 0.70; 95% CI, 0.64-0.76).

Conclusion: Facility factors affect rates of receipt of guideline-compliant initial surgical management for patients with node-negative Merkel cell carcinoma. Given the survival benefit of such treatment, patients may benefit from care at hospitals with high melanoma case volumes.

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