Morphologic Diversity of Merkel Cell Carcinoma

Am J Dermatopathol. 2020 Sep;42(9):629-640. doi: 10.1097/DAD.0000000000001548.


Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is a rare and highly aggressive neuroendocrine carcinoma of unknown origin. We performed a retrospective histologic review of primary cutaneous MCCs diagnosed from 1997 to 2018 in several clinical institutions and literature review to determine the frequency of various unusual morphologic appearances of MCC. Of the 136 primary MCCs identified, intraepidermal carcinoma or epidermotropism was noted in 11/136 (8%) cases. An association with pilar cyst in 1/136 (0.7%) case, with actinic keratosis in 2/136 (1.5%) cases, with either invasive or in situ squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) in 14/136 (10%) cases, with poroma in 1/136 (0.7%), and with basal cell carcinoma in 1/136 (0.7%) case was noted. Trabecular pattern and rosettes were noted in 7/136 (5%) and 3/136 (2%) cases, respectively. There was one case of metastatic MCC in a lymph node with chronic lymphocytic leukemia and one rare case of metastatic MCC and SCC in a lymph node. Although uncommon, differentiation toward other cell lineage can be observed in both primary and metastatic MCCs. The tumor can assume a variety of histologic appearances including association with SCC, basal cell carcinoma, melanocytic neoplasm, and follicular cyst; as well as exhibit glandular, sarcomatous, and mesenchymal differentiation. This diversity of morphologic appearance of MCC reflects the complexity of its underlying pathogenesis.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis
  • Biopsy
  • Carcinoma, Merkel Cell / chemistry
  • Carcinoma, Merkel Cell / immunology
  • Carcinoma, Merkel Cell / pathology*
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Immunocompromised Host
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Lymphatic Metastasis
  • Merkel Cells / chemistry
  • Merkel Cells / immunology
  • Merkel Cells / pathology*
  • Poland
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prognosis
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Skin Neoplasms / chemistry
  • Skin Neoplasms / immunology
  • Skin Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Taiwan
  • United States


  • Biomarkers, Tumor