Unknown primary Merkel cell carcinoma: 23 new cases and a review

Tina I. Tarantola, Laura A. Vallow, Michele Y. Halyard, Roger H. Weenig, Karen E. Warschaw, Amy L. Weaver, Randall K. Roenigk, Jerry D. Brewer, Clark C. Otley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Background: Knowledge is limited regarding unknown primary Merkel cell carcinoma (UPMCC). Objective: We sought to document the characteristics and behavior of UPMCC, and determine the most appropriate treatment. Methods: A multicenter, retrospective, consecutive study reviewing patients given a diagnosis of UPMCC between 1981 and 2008 was completed. In addition, a literature review of cases of UPMCC was performed. Results: In all, 23 patients with UPMCC are described and 34 cases from previous reports are compiled. Among the 23 new cases of UPMCC, the average age at diagnosis was 66.0 years; the majority of patients were male (87%) and Caucasian (100% of those reported). One patient was immunosuppressed, and 39% had a history of other cancer. After the initial biopsy, 16 patients had further evaluation of the involved lymph node basin. Half of these had additional positive nodes (8 of 16). The majority of patients had lymph node basin involvement only (78%), whereas 22% had lymph node basin and distant metastasis. The most common lymph node basin involved was inguinal. The median size of the involved lymph node at diagnosis was 5.0 cm. At 2 years, the overall survival of stage IIIB UPMCC was significantly improved versus stage IIIB known primary Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC): 76.9% to 36.4%. Limitations: Limited number of cases and retrospective review are limitations. Conclusion: Our data demonstrate improved overall survival in patients with stage IIIB UPMCC versus those with stage IIIB known primary MCC. Because of the unpredictable natural history of UPMCC, we recommend individualization of care based on the details of each patient's clinical presentation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)433-440
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the American Academy of Dermatology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2013


  • Merkel cell carcinoma
  • lymphatic metastasis
  • retrospective
  • unknown primary

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Dermatology


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