A comparison of Merkel cell carcinoma and melanoma: Results from the California Cancer Registry

Julia Grabowski, Sidney L. Saltzstein, Georgia Robins Sadler, Zunera Tahir, Sarah Blair*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Introduction: Melanoma and Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) are both aggressive skin malignancies associated with immunosuppression and possible UV exposure. Both tumors get similar surgical treatment; however, MCC is a relatively rare tumor in which less is known about prognosis and clinical behavior.

Methods: The California Cancer Registry (CCR), a population-based registry, was reviewed from the years 1988–2003. Merkel cell carcinoma and melanoma were compared with relation to gender, age, ethnicity, disease stage, site, and survival.

Results: A total of 113,187 cases of melanoma and 1,878 cases of MCC were identified in the CCR. Though both cancers are more common in men than in women, MCC had a higher incidence in men than melanoma (63% vs 57% p < 0.005). MCC occurs in the more elderly, with 73.6% of cases occurring in people over 70 years. In contrast, 69% of melanoma cases occurred in people younger than 70 years (p < 0.005). MCC shows a predilection for the head and neck compared to melanoma (47% vs 25.8%) Additionally, melanoma occurs more frequently on the trunk than MCC (30% vs 8.7%). Finally, the 10-year cumulative survival is lower for MCC than for melanoma (17.7% vs 61.3%, p < 0.005).

Conclusion: Many clinicians assume MCC and melanoma behave similarly. However, MCC occurs in an older population, more frequently on the head and neck, in a higher percentage of men. Additionally, MCC has a higher rate of regional metastasis and thus may have more of a benefit from regional staging procedures. Overall, MCC has a worse prognosis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)327-333
Number of pages7
JournalClinical Medicine: Oncology
StatePublished - Apr 1 2008


  • California cancer registry
  • Melanoma
  • Merkel cell carcinoma
  • Skin cancer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology


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