Background and objective: Avelumab is approved for the treatment of metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma, a rare aggressive skin cancer with a poor prognosis. The aim of this qualitative study embedded in a clinical trial was to explore patient experiences while receiving avelumab.
Methods: All treatment-naïve patients with metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma entering part B of the phase II, open-label, international, JAVELIN Merkel 200 trial (NCT02155647) were invited to participate in optional semi-structured phone interviews before avelumab administration (baseline) and at weeks 13 and 25. Interviews were conducted by trained professionals, audio-recorded, transcribed and analysed. Key concepts identified at baseline were assessed during follow-up interviews.
Results: Twenty-nine patients completed the baseline interview; 19 had at least one follow-up interview. Baseline interviews described the patients' challenging journeys before being correctly diagnosed with Merkel cell carcinoma, the negative psychological burden of living with a symptomless disease and the hope for avelumab to be a successful therapy. During the trial, most patients reported an increased or continued sense of hope and willingness to fight metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma. Patients who self-reported disease improvement (n = 12) also reported stability or improvement in physical well-being and ability to do daily activities, having more energy, worrying less and being optimistic. Six patients who reported their condition as stable (n = 4) or worsened (n = 3) reported a worsening of physical well-being. Nine patients reported fatigue/tiredness on the day of and after receiving avelumab. Baseline and longitudinal experiences were similar across countries.
Conclusions: This study suggests that patients experience perceptible benefits in physical and psychological well-being following treatment success with first-line avelumab in metastatic Merkel cell carcinoma.