Background: Immunosuppression and Merkel-cell polyomavirus (MCPyV) infection may have a role in the pathogenesis of Merkel-cell carcinoma (MCC), a rare neuroendocrine carcinoma of the skin.
Methods: We studied incidence of chronic lymphocytic leukaemia (CLL) and MCC from the files of the Finnish Cancer Registry and the largest hospital of Finland, Helsinki University Central Hospital, from 1979 to 2006. Presence of MCPyV DNA in MCCs was investigated by quantitative PCR.
Results: We identified 4164 patients diagnosed with CLL and 172 diagnosed with MCC. Six patients diagnosed with both diseases were found; CLL was the first diagnosis in four cases and MCC in two. The standardised incidence ratio (SIR) for CLL after the diagnosis of MCC was highly elevated, 17.9 (95% confidence interval (CI), 2.2-64.6; P<0.001), and the SIR for MCC after the diagnosis of CLL was also elevated, 15.7 (3.2-46.0, P<0.01). Merkel-cell polyomavirus DNA was present in all five MCCs with tumour tissue available for analysis.
Conclusions: We conclude that patients diagnosed with CLL have a substantially increased risk for MCC, and vice versa. Merkel-cell polyomavirus DNA is frequently present in MCCs that occur in CLL patients. Immunosuppression related with CLL and viral infection might explain the association between CLL and MCC.