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Dermatology Online Journal

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Evaluation of clinical characteristics and pre-biopsy impressions of primary Merkel cell carcinoma of the skin


Merkel cell carcinoma is an aggressive carcinoma of the skin notable for protean presentation on physical exam. A retrospective cohort of 232 patients with primary cutaneous Merkel cell carcinoma was reviewed for availability of data on pre-biopsy clinical differential diagnosis based on clinical exam. Data was available for 192 patients (83%). The three most common impressions were cyst (33.3%), basal cell carcinoma (31.8%), and squamous cell carcinoma (19.8%). Merkel cell carcinoma was correctly suspected in only 13 cases (6.8%). A greater proportion of lesions that were less than or equal to 2 cm in diameter (10.2%) or carried BCC as a co-diagnosis (11.5%) were correctly suspected as Merkel cell carcinoma prior to biopsy, versus lesions greater than 2 cm in diameter (1.6%) or carrying SCC as a co-diagnosis (2.6%), suggesting that clinicians may be anchoring on the well-publicized concept of Merkel cell carcinoma as a small, pearly papule in real-world practice.

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