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Effect of radiation therapy on survival in patients with resected Merkel cell carcinoma: a propensity score surveillance, epidemiology, and end results database analysis.

IMPORTANCE: Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is a cutaneous neuroendocrine malignant neoplasm that can be highly aggressive and ultimately lethal. However, the cumulatively low incidence rate has made it difficult to accrue patients to prospective randomized trials.

OBJECTIVE: To determine whether patients with MCC in the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database who received radiation therapy after resection demonstrate improved survival.

DESIGN: The study population consisted of SEER patients with histologically confirmed MCC who underwent surgical resection between January 1, 1998, and December 30, 2006. Cox proprotional hazards regression models were used to determine factors associated with MCC-specific and overall survival. Propensity scoring with matched pairs was used to perform Kaplan-Meier survival analysis comparing patients who underwent surgery plus radiation therapy vs those who underwent surgery alone.

SETTING AND PARTICIPANTS: National database study of participants at least 20 years old with MCC, matched for age, sex, race/ethnicity, diagnosis period, tumor size, disease stage, surgery of the primary site, type of lymph node surgery, and geographic region. Exclusion criteria included survival of less than 4 months and metastatic disease.

MAIN OUTCOMES AND MEASURES: Disease-specific survival and overall survival.

RESULTS: Factors that were independently associated with the use of radiation therapy included marital status, disease stage, and type of lymph node surgery. Factors associated with both MCC-specific and overall survival included age and disease stage. Propensity scoring and matched-pair analysis resulted in 269 matched pairs of patients and demonstrated that patients who received radiation therapy had improved overall survival (P = .03) but not MCC-specific survival (P = .26).

CONCLUSIONS AND RELEVANCE: The improvement in overall survival among SEER patients who receive radiation therapy following surgical resection of MCC may be a result of selection bias or unmeasured factors and not radiation therapy.

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