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This study aims to look at the trends in our head and neck cancer patient population over the past 5 years with an emphasis on the past 2 years to evaluate how the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has impacted our disparities and availability of care for patients, especially those living in rural areas. An additional aim is to identify existing disparities at our institution in the treatment of head and neck patients and determine solutions to improve patient care.
Materials and Methods:
A retrospective chart review was performed to identify patients who were consulted and subsequently treated with at least one fraction of radiation therapy at our institution with palliative or curative intent. Patient demographic information was collected including hometown, distance from the cancer centre based on zip-codes and insurance information and type of appointment (in-person or telehealth). Rural–urban continuum codes were used to determine rurality.
A total of 490 head and neck cancer patients (n = 490) were treated from 2017 to 2021. When broken down by year, there were no significant trends in patient population regarding travel distance or rurality. Roughly 20–30% of our patients live in rural areas and about 30% have a commute > 50 miles for radiation treatment. A majority of our patients rely on public insurance (68%) with a small percentage of those uninsured (4%). Telehealth visits were rare prior to 2019 and rose to 5 and 2 visits in 2020 and 2021, respectively.
Head and neck cancer patients, despite rurality or distance from a cancer centre, may present with alarmingly enough symptoms despite limitations and difficulties with seeking medical attention even during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. However, providers must be aware of these potential disparities that exist in the rural population and seek to address these.
Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC) is a rare and highly aggressive neuroendocrine malignancy typically involving the skin. The majority of MCC involves the head/neck region and the extremities. Despite the aggressive nature of the disease, there have been several case studies that report spontaneous regression. We report a unique case of spontaneous regression of an MCC in a peculiar region in the anterior mediastinum with no cutaneous involvement.
A 50-year-old man who presented with a mobile low anterior neck mass, proven by biopsy, to be MCC. Subsequent PET/CT confirmed an FDG (Flurodeoxyglucose)-avid upper mediastinal mass. The mass gradually regressed over the course of 1 month subsequent to biopsy and was no longer palpable on exam or visible on subsequent CT scans. The patient was treated with intensity modulated radiation therapy with a total dose of 6,160 cGy in 28 fractions to the site of previously visible primary disease. At-risk nodal basins were also treated. On subsequent follow-up, the patient continued to have no clinical or radiographic signs of disease.
Spontaneous regression of an MCC is rare but has been reported mostly in the head/neck region following biopsy. It is unknown why spontaneous regression occurs. There is a possibility that biopsy may stimulate T-lymphocytes resulting in spontaneous regression.
This is the first case to our knowledge of spontaneous regression of an MCC in the anterior mediastinum with no cutaneous involvement. Most MCC are seen clinically due to skin changes with a majority of cases occurring in the head/neck region.
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