Outcome of early stage Merkel carcinoma treated by exclusive radiation: a study of 53 patients

May 14, 2021


Radiation Oncology

Publication Date

May 14, 2021


Manon Dubois, Henry Abi Rached, Alexandre Escande, Frédéric Dezoteux, Franck Darloy, Anaïs Jouin, Maeva Kyheng, Julien Labreuche, Véronique Dziwniel, Xavier Mirabel, Laurent Mortier

Merkelcell.org Summary

This publication adds to an already large number of studies that indicate that radiation can be considered a very effective primary therapy for MCC, particularly if surgery is not feasible. The Australians often treat MCC with radiation rather than surgery, and outcomes are very good. This concept just points to the fact that there are many options to treat MCC and an experienced multi-disciplinary team should be involved in determining the best plan for a patient’s specific case and preferences.


Purpose: Early stage Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is a rare and aggressive primary skin cancer. The standard of care for MCC is broad excision and adjuvant external beam radiation therapy (EBRT). However, for some patients, anesthesia is contraindicated, while others run the risk of serious aesthetic sequelae. In such cases, exclusive radiotherapy is an interesting alternative to surgery. Though limited data is available, this study evaluates exclusive radiotherapy for MCC, using data from the largest retrospective study to date.

Methods: All patients who were followed in our center between 1989 and 2019 for histologically proven early stage MCC were included in the study. They were treated either by surgery with a 2-cm clear margin followed by adjuvant radiotherapy (RT) or by exclusive RT. Survival rates with adjuvant and exclusive EBRT were analyzed using Cox model and Fine and Gray model depending on the type of survival. p value < 0.05 was considered significant.

Results: Eighty-four patients treated for MCC were included. Fifty-three of them (63.1%) were treated by exclusive RT, and 31 (36.9%) had surgical excision followed by adjuvant RT. Local relapse rate was 13.7% (95% CI 8.0-43.7) in the RT monotherapy group (group A) and 25.8% (95% CI 10.3-56.2) in the surgery + RT group (group B) (p = 0.42). No statistical difference was found for nodal relapse (p = 0.81), metastatic relapse (p = 0.10), disease free survival (p = 0.83) or overall survival (p = 0.98).

Conclusion: Our study suggests that exclusive radiotherapy for early Merkel cell carcinoma leads to a similar oncological outcome as combined treatment, with fewer aesthetic sequelae. The approach is interesting for elderly patients with comorbidities or patients for whom surgery would cause significant functional or aesthetic sequelae.

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