Sentinel lymph node biopsy in Merkel cell carcinoma: The Mayo Clinic experience of 150 patients

John R. Sims, Travis E. Grotz, Barbara A. Pockaj, Richard W. Joseph, Robert L. Foote, Clark C. Otley, Amy L. Weaver, James W. Jakub, Daniel L. Price

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Background Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is a rare cutaneous malignancy of neuroendocrine origin with a high propensity for lymph node metastasis. Sentinel lymph node (SLN) status is important for accurate staging; however, the optimal treatment following SLN biopsy, regardless of nodal status, remains unclear. Methods 150 patients with MCC who underwent SLN biopsy from 1995 to 2011 at 3 Mayo Clinic sites were reviewed. Results Of 150 patients with MCC who underwent SLN biopsy, 39 (26%) were positive and 111 (74%) were negative. There was no significant difference between the sex, age, tumor location, or size of primary in the positive and negative SLN groups. While there was no difference in the cumulative incidence of any regional recurrence between SLN groups, the rate of in-transit recurrences was significantly higher in patients with a positive SLN (p = 0.022). The disease-specific survival for MCC was 97.0%, 82.4%, and 82.4% at 1, 3, and 5 years with a positive SLN and 99.0%, 94.9%, and 86.8% with a negative SLN (p = 0.31). Among those alive at last follow up, the median follow up was 3.8 years (IQR, 2.1–8.4) and 2.9 years (IQR, 1.8–6.1) for positive and negative SLN cohorts respectively. Conclusions Occult nodal metastasis is common in MCC(26%). No tumor or patient characteristics were identified to predict SLN positivity. Patients with a positive SLN have a higher risk of in-transit recurrence and may benefit from adjuvant radiation with inclusion of the in-transit field in amenable cases. When patients with a positive SLN receive additional treatment to the at-risk nodal basin, both OS and DSS are similar to patients with a negative SLN.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)11-17
Number of pages7
JournalSurgical Oncology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2018


  • In-transit metastasis
  • Merkel cell carcinoma
  • Occult lymph node metastasis
  • Recurrence
  • Sentinel lymph node biopsy
  • Survival

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Oncology


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