Merkel cell carcinoma: combined surgery and radiation therapy

A M Cotlar, J O Gates, F A Gibbs
American Surgeon 1986, 52 (3): 159-64
Merkel cell carcinoma, first reported as "trabecular carcinoma" by Toker in 1972, is a dangerous, often fatal primary skin tumor. The current authors report eight patients, only one of whom is considered to have a totally successful clinical outcome. Two patients died and one was preterminal with widespread disease in 10 to 20 months. Two others had recurrence or metastases within a year, and two patients died early of intercurrent disease after first developing regional lymph node involvement. Review of 139 patients reported in the literature indicates local recurrence in 30 per cent, regional lymph node metastases in 50 per cent, and death from neoplasm in 18 per of the cases. All patients in the present series received radiation therapy with encouraging response. The tumor was quite radiosensitive, and in only one instance was there recurrence within an irradiated field. Wide surgical excision with prompt postoperative irradiation to the local site and regional lymphatics is the therapy of choice in early lesions. Regional lymphadenectomy is recommended whenever nodal involvement is suspected. Currently, an aggressive combined surgical and radio-therapeutic approach to this dangerous neoplasm appears warranted, although further data may show that early and routine use of radiotherapy in Merkel cell carcinoma could obviate the necessity for extensive operative procedures.

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