Molecular Profiling of Multiple Primary Merkel Cell Carcinoma to Distinguish Genetically Distinct Tumors From Clonally Related Metastases

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Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is an aggressive cutaneous neuroendocrine carcinoma. In rare cases, the development of an additional cutaneous MCC tumor is clinically consistent with a second primary MCC tumor rather than a cutaneous metastasis, which has important treatment and prognostic implications.


To evaluate genetic relatedness in 4 cases with the clinical diagnosis of multiple primary MCCs.

Design, Setting, and Participants

In this case series, 7 cases of clinically designated multiple primary MCC were identified; 4 cases met inclusion criteria for next-generation sequencing (NGS) analysis. Mutations, copy number alterations, and Merkel cell polyomavirus (MCPyV) sequence were analyzed and compared between clinically designated multiple primary tumors to characterize genetic relatedness and hence assess clonality. Patients with clinically designated multiple primary MCC were identified from the multidisciplinary MCC Program at the University of Michigan, a tertiary care center.

Main Outcomes and Measures

Four cases of clinically designated multiple primary MCC were characterized by tumor sequencing and targeted MCPyV sequencing to distinguish independent primary tumors from related metastases.


Overall, 4 patients in their 70s or 80s were included and analyzed. Cases 1 and 4 were verified as genetically distinct primary tumors and did not harbor similar copy number alterations or demonstrate significant mutational overlap. Cases 2 and 3 were designated as clonally related based on overlapping copy number alterations. In clonally related tumors, chromosomal copy number changes were more reliable than mutations for demonstrating clonality. Regardless of clonality, we found that MCPyV status was concordant for all tumor pairs and MCPyV positive tumors harbored predominatly subclonal mutations.

Conclusions and Relevance

Our findings suggest that patients with MCC may develop a second genetically distinct primary tumor; in this case, the subsequent tumor is likely to develop through similar mechanisms of pathogenesis, either MCPyV-mediated or ultraviolet light–mediated. Next–generation sequencing analysis of chromosomal copy number changes and mutations is useful in distinguishing multiple primary MCCs from progression of MCC clinically resembling multiple primaries, allowing appropriate staging of the patient.

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