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Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology
Volume 68, n° 3
pages 433-440 (mars 2013)
Doi : 10.1016/j.jaad.2012.07.035
accepted : 30 July 2012
Original Articles

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

Tina I. Tarantola, MD a, , Laura A. Vallow, MD c, Michele Y. Halyard, MD d, Roger H. Weenig, MD f, Karen E. Warschaw, MD e, Amy L. Weaver, MSc b, Randall K. Roenigk, MD a, Jerry D. Brewer, MD a, Clark C. Otley, MD a
a Department of Dermatology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota 
b Division of Biomedical Statistics and Informatics, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota 
c Department of Radiation Oncology, Mayo Clinic, Jacksonville, Florida 
d Department of Radiation Oncology, Mayo Clinic, Scottsdale, Arizona 
e Department of Dermatology, Mayo Clinic, Scottsdale, Arizona 
f Department of Dermatology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota 

Reprint requests: Tina I. Tarantola, MD, Skin Cancer Center of Northwest Florida, 540 Fontaine St, Pensacola, FL 32503.

Knowledge is limited regarding unknown primary Merkel cell carcinoma (UPMCC).


We sought to document the characteristics and behavior of UPMCC, and determine the most appropriate treatment.


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.


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%.


Limited number of cases and retrospective review are limitations.


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.

The full text of this article is available in PDF format.

Key words : lymphatic metastasis, Merkel cell carcinoma, retrospective, unknown primary

Abbreviations used : AJCC, MCC, UPMCC

 Funding sources: None.
 Conflicts of interest: None declared.

© 2012  American Academy of Dermatology, Inc.@@#104156@@
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