Purpose: Patients presenting with nodal Merkel cell carcinoma without an identifiable (unknown) primary lesion (MCC-UP) are nearly twice as likely to survive compared with similarly staged patients with known primary lesions (MCC-KP). The basis of this previously reported finding is unclear. Experimental Design: Survival analyses and markers of immunity were evaluated in 123 patients with advanced MCC. Whole-exome sequence data were analyzed from 16 tumors. Results: As in prior studies, patients with nodal MCC-UP had strikingly improved MCC-specific survival as compared with MCC-KP patients (HR, 0.297; P < 0.001). Surprisingly, patients presenting with distant metastatic MCC-UP also had significantly improved survival (HR, 0.296; P ¼ 0.038). None of the 72 patients with MCC-UP were immunosuppressed as compared to 12 of the 51 (24%) patients with MCC-KP (P < 0.001). Merkel polyomavirus oncoprotein antibody median titer was higher in MCC-UP patients (26,229) than MCC-KP patients (3,492; P < 0.001). In addition, the median number of nonsynonymous exome mutations in MCC-UP tumors (688 mutations) was markedly higher than MCC-KP tumors (10 mutations, P ¼ 0.016). Conclusions: This is the first study to our knowledge to explore potential underlying immune-mediated mechanisms of MCC-UP presentation. In this cohort, MCC-UP patients were never immune suppressed, had higher oncoprotein antibody titers, and higher tumor mutational burdens. In addition, we show that nodal tumors identified in MCC-UP patients did indeed arise from primary skin lesions as they contained abundant UV-signature mutations. These findings suggest that stronger underlying immunity against MCC contributes to primary lesion elimination and improved survival.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cancer Research