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Cancer Health Center

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Merkel Cell Carcinoma Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Recurrent Merkel Cell Carcinoma

Merkel cell carcinoma is a rare tumor. There are no clinical trials reported for patients with recurrent disease exclusively. Recommendations and outcomes of various treatments for these patients are included in many large case series [1,2,3][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiii] and one phase II clinical trial.[4][Level of evidence: 3iiiA] Treatments are usually individualized based on patient preference and the specifics of each case, and there are no standard options. Consideration should be given to enrollment in clinical trials.

Local Recurrence

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Treatment options for patients with local recurrence include wider local surgery if possible, followed by radiation if not previously given.

Regional lymph node dissection (RLND) can also be considered if regional draining nodes have not been previously removed.

Given the poor prognosis after recurrence, consideration can also be given to systemic chemotherapy, although there is no evidence that it improves survival.

Nodal Recurrence

Treatment options for patients with only regional nodal recurrence include RLND and adjuvant radiation therapy if the regional draining nodes have not been previously treated. Given the poor prognosis after recurrence, consideration can also be given to systemic chemotherapy, although there is no evidence that it improves survival.

Distant Recurrence

For patients with distant recurrence only, chemotherapy is an option for patients who have good performance status.[1,2,3,4,5,6][Level of evidence: 3iiiDiii] Although responses with chemotherapy have been reported in selected patients with locally advanced and metastatic disease, toxicity has been significant and without clear benefit, particularly in older patients. When appropriate, radiation therapy and/or surgery may be offered as palliation to sites of recurrence, particularly if chemotherapy is not considered an option.

Current Clinical Trials

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with recurrent neuroendocrine carcinoma of the skin. The list of clinical trials can be further narrowed by location, drug, intervention, and other criteria.

General information about clinical trials is also available from the NCI Web site.


  1. Goessling W, McKee PH, Mayer RJ: Merkel cell carcinoma. J Clin Oncol 20 (2): 588-98, 2002.
  2. Henness S, Vereecken P: Management of Merkel tumours: an evidence-based review. Curr Opin Oncol 20 (3): 280-6, 2008.
  3. Voog E, Biron P, Martin JP, et al.: Chemotherapy for patients with locally advanced or metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma. Cancer 85 (12): 2589-95, 1999.
  4. Poulsen M, Rischin D, Walpole E, et al.: High-risk Merkel cell carcinoma of the skin treated with synchronous carboplatin/etoposide and radiation: a Trans-Tasman Radiation Oncology Group Study--TROG 96:07. J Clin Oncol 21 (23): 4371-6, 2003.
  5. Eng TY, Boersma MG, Fuller CD, et al.: A comprehensive review of the treatment of Merkel cell carcinoma. Am J Clin Oncol 30 (6): 624-36, 2007.
  6. Tai PT, Yu E, Winquist E, et al.: Chemotherapy in neuroendocrine/Merkel cell carcinoma of the skin: case series and review of 204 cases. J Clin Oncol 18 (12): 2493-9, 2000.

    This information is produced and provided by the National Cancer Institute (NCI). The information in this topic may have changed since it was written. For the most current information, contact the National Cancer Institute via the Internet web site at http:// cancer .gov or call 1-800-4-CANCER.

    WebMD Public Information from the National Cancer Institute

    Last Updated: May 28, 2015
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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