Screening for metastatic malignant melanoma of the uvea revisited

Cancer. 1999 Mar 1;85(5):1151-9.


Background: The purpose of the current study was to assess the value of routine imaging and liver function tests in detecting metastases from malignant melanoma of the uvea.

Methods: Forty-six consecutive patients diagnosed with metastatic uveal melanoma between 1985 and 1996 who had participated in a screening program that included annual liver function tests (LFT), chest X-ray, and abdominal ultrasonography (US) were eligible for this retrospective cohort study. Main outcome measures were the sensitivity of screening tests, presence of symptoms, recurrence free interval, and metastatic burden.

Results: Metastases were diagnosed in 74% of patients (95% confidence interval [95% CI], 59-86) at screening and in 26% (95% CI, 14-41) when the patient consulted a physician because of symptoms that developed before the next scheduled visit. Of all the patients, 59% (95% CI, 43-73) were asymptomatic, and 80% (95% CI, 66-91) had only hepatic metastases. The median recurrence free interval, greatest dimension of the largest metastasis, and metastatic burden of the two groups did not differ. US was diagnostic in 78% (95% CI, 64-89), at least 1 LFT test was abnormal in 70% of patients (95% CI, 54-82), and a chest X-ray was abnormal in 2% of patients (95% CI, 0-12). LFTs and US did not reveal hepatic metastases in 33% and 4% of patients, respectively. The sensitivity of individual LFTs ranged from 0.27 to 0.67, and their specificity from 0.90 to 0.96, with lactate dehydrogenase being the most sensitive LFT used.

Conclusions: The authors believe that annual screening with LFTs and abdominal US will identify 59% of patients while they are still asymptomatic and that semiannual screening will detect >95% of such patients. Chest X-ray has a very low yield and is recommended only at baseline to exclude metastatic disease to the eye and if pulmonary symptoms develop.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Alkaline Phosphatase / blood
  • Female
  • Humans
  • L-Lactate Dehydrogenase / blood
  • Liver Function Tests
  • Liver Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Liver Neoplasms / enzymology
  • Liver Neoplasms / secondary
  • Male
  • Mass Screening*
  • Melanoma / diagnosis*
  • Melanoma / enzymology
  • Melanoma / secondary
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Selection
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Transaminases / blood
  • Uveal Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Uveal Neoplasms / enzymology
  • Uveal Neoplasms / pathology*


  • L-Lactate Dehydrogenase
  • Transaminases
  • Alkaline Phosphatase