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Merkel cell carcinoma

Virve Koljonen

Author Affiliations

Department of Plastic Surgery, Helsinki University Hospital, Helsinki Finland

World Journal of Surgical Oncology 2006, 4:7  doi:10.1186/1477-7819-4-7

Published: 8 February 2006



Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is an unusual primary neuroendocrine carcinoma of the skin. MCC is a fatal disease, and patients have a poor chance of survival. Moreover, MCC lacks distinguishing clinical features, and thus by the time the diagnosis is made, the tumour usually have metastasized. MCC mainly affects sun-exposed areas of elderly persons. Half of the tumours are located in the head and neck region.


MCC was first described in 1972. Since then, most of the cases reported, have been in small series of patients. Most of the reports concern single cases or epidemiological studies. The present study reviews the world literature on MCC. The purpose of this article is to shed light on this unknown neuroendocrine carcinoma and provide the latest information on prognostic markers and treatment options.


The epidemiological studies have revealed that large tumour size, male sex, truncal site, nodal/distant disease at presentation, and duration of disease before presentation, are poor prognostic factors. The recommended initial treatment is extensive local excision. Adjuvant radiation therapy has recently been shown to improve survival. Thus far, no chemotherapy protocol have achieved the same objective.


Although rare, the fatality of this malignancy makes is important to understand the etiology and pathophysiology. During the last few years, the research on MCC has produced prognostic markers, which can be translated into clinical patient care.