Study Suggests Benefit of Adjuvant Radiation Therapy but Not Chemotherapy in Some Patients With Merkel Cell Carcinoma


Key Points

  • Adjuvant radiotherapy was associated with a survival benefit in patients with stages I and II Merkel cell carcinoma but not in patients with stage III disease.
  • No survival benefit of adjuvant chemotherapy was found in patients with stage I, II, or III disease.

In an analysis of National Cancer Data Base data reported in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Bhatia et al found that adjuvant radiotherapy was associated with a survival benefit in patients with stage I and II but not stage III Merkel cell carcinoma, with no benefit of adjuvant chemotherapy being identified.

Study Details

The retrospective analysis included 6,908 patients who had stage I to III disease and had received surgery, surgery and radiotherapy, or radiotherapy as the primary treatment modality. All patients were diagnosed between January 1996 and December 2008. Multivariate analysis for overall survival adjusted for prognostic variables including age, sex, comorbidities, margin status, primary tumor site and size, and lymph node status.

Benefit of Radiotherapy in Localized Disease

On multivariate analysis, use of adjuvant radiotherapy was associated with improved overall survival among 3,369 patients with stage I disease (hazard ratio [HR] = 0.71, P < .001) and among 1,474 with stage II disease (HR = 0.77, P < .001) but not among 2,065 patients with regional nodal metastases (stage III; HR = 0.98, P = .80) vs surgery alone. Adjuvant chemotherapy was not associated with a significant benefit in stage I (HR = 0.79, P = .11), stage II (HR = 1.14, P = .30), or stage III disease (HR = 0.97, P = .71) vs no chemotherapy.

The investigators concluded: “In this study of the largest [Merkel cell carcinoma] cohort reported to date, adjuvant [radiotherapy] was associated with improved [overall survival] in stages I-II [Merkel cell carcinoma]. Neither adjuvant [radiotherapy] nor chemotherapy was associated with improved [overall survival] in stage III [Merkel cell carcinoma]. These results, with the limitations of retrospective analyses, are consistent with earlier studies suggesting benefit with adjuvant [radiotherapy] but do not support the routine use of adjuvant chemotherapy in [Merkel cell carcinoma].”

The study was supported by National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences grants from the National Institutes of Health, Michael Piepkorn endowment, and Merkel patient gift funds.

Shailender Bhatia, MD, and Paul Nghiem, MD, PhD, both of the University of Washington/Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, are corresponding authors of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute article.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.