A Kaiser Permanente analysis of electronic health record data has revealed that patients with a rare type of skin cancer, Merkel cell carcinoma, have a 70 percent lower risk of disease recurrence if they are treated with radiation, while chemotherapy did not appear to have any impact on recurrence or survival.

Kaiser-Permanente executives said the study presents one of the largest single-institution datasets on Merkel cell carcinoma, which occurs in about 1,500 people in the United States annually. Most such cancers occur on the sun-exposed skin of white males and are first diagnosed at age 75, on average. Using the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Cancer Registry, the researchers found that out of 218 cases of Kaiser Permanente patients who had Merkel cell carcinoma, those who had radiation treatment had a 70 percent lower risk of disease recurrence while chemotherapy did not appear to have any impact on recurrence or survival.

“We used our database to show what characteristics impact recurrence and survival in this very rare cancer,” said the study’s lead author, Maryam Asgari, M.D., of the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research. “The electronic records allowed us to identify patients with Merkel cell carcinoma, see how they were diagnosed and treated, and then follow them over time to see how their care affected their outcomes.”

Asgari noted that the success of different work-up and treatment protocols has been difficult to compare for rare cancers. “This research should help dermatologists and oncologists in caring for their patients with Merkel cell carcinomas,” she said

 

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