Postoperative, Single-Fraction Radiation Therapy in Merkel Cell Carcinoma of the Head and Neck

Adv Radiat Oncol. 2020 Nov-Dec;5(6):1248-1254. doi: 10.1016/j.adro.2020.07.003. Epub 2020 Jul 21.


Purpose: Conventionally fractionated, postoperative radiation therapy (cPORT; 50 Gy in 25 fractions) is considered for patients with Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) to improve locoregional control. However, cPORT is associated with acute toxicity, especially in the head and neck (H&N) region, and requires daily treatments over several weeks. We previously reported high rates of durable local control with minimal toxicity using 8-Gy single-fraction radiation therapy (SFRT) in the metastatic setting. We report early results on a cohort of patients with localized H&N MCC who received postoperative SFRT if a cPORT regimen was not feasible.

Methods and materials: Twelve patients with localized MCC of the H&N (clinical/pathologic stages I-II) and no prior radiation therapy to the region were identified from an institutional review board-approved prospective registry who underwent surgical resection followed by postoperative SFRT. Time to event was calculated starting from the date of resection before SFRT. The cumulative incidence of in-field locoregional recurrences and out-of-field recurrences was estimated with death as a competing risk.

Results: Twelve patients with H&N MCC were identified with clinical/pathologic stages I-II H&N MCC. Median age at diagnosis was 81 years (range, 58-96 years); 25% had immunosuppression. At a median follow-up of 19 months (range, 8-34), there were no in-field locoregional recurrences. A single out-of-field regional recurrence was observed, which was successfully salvaged. There were no MCC-specific deaths. No radiation-associated toxicities greater than grade 1 (Common Terminology Criteria for Adverse Events v5) were observed.

Conclusions: Preliminary data suggest that SFRT could offer a potential alternative to cPORT to treat the primary site for localized H&N MCC, particularly in elderly or frail patients, with promising in-field local control and minimal toxicity. Further data with validation in larger cohorts are needed to confirm the sustained safety and efficacy of postoperative SFRT.