Objective: To evaluate the multicenter application of intraoperative lymphatic mapping, sentinel lymphadenectomy, and selective complete lymph node dissection (LM/SL/SCLND) for the management of early-stage melanoma.
Summary background data: The multidisciplinary technique of LM/SL/SCLND has been widely adopted, but not validated in a multicenter trial. The authors began the international Multicenter Selective Lymphadenectomy Trial (MSLT) 5 years ago to evaluate the survival of patients with early-stage primary melanoma after wide excision alone versus wide excision plus LM/SL/SCLND. This study examined the accuracy of LM/SL/SCLND in the MSLT, using the experience of the organizing center (John Wayne Cancer Institute [JWCI]) as a standard for comparison.
Methods: Before entering patients into the randomization phase, each center in the MSLT was required to finish a 30-case learning phase with complete nuclear medicine, pathology, and surgical review. Selection of MSLT patients in the LM/SL/SCLND treatment arm was based on complete pathologic and surgical data. The comparison group of JWCI patients was selected using these criteria: primary cutaneous melanoma having a thickness > or =1 mm with a Clark level > or =III, or a thickness <1 mm with a Clark level > or =IV (MSLT criterion); LM/SL performed between June 1, 1985, and December 30, 1998; and patient not entered in the MSLT. The accuracy of LM/SL/SCLND was determined by comparing the rates of sentinel node (SN) identification and the incidence of SN metastases in the MSLT and JWCI groups.
Results: There were 551 patients in the MSLT group and 584 patients in the JWCI group. In both groups, LM performed with blue dye plus a radiocolloid was more successful (99.1 %) than LM performed with blue dye alone (95.2%) (p = 0.014). After a center had completed the 30-case learning phase, the success of SN identification in the MSLT group was independent of the center's case volume or experience in the MSLT.
Conclusions: Lymphatic mapping and sentinel lymphadenectomy can be successfully learned and applied in a standardized fashion with high accuracy by centers worldwide. Successful SN identification rates of 97% can be achieved, and the incidence of nodal metastases approaches that of the organizing center. A multidisciplinary approach (surgery, nuclear medicine, and pathology) and a learning phase of > or =30 consecutive cases per center are sufficient for mastery of LM/SL in cutaneous melanoma. Lymphatic mapping performed using blue dye plus radiocolloid is superior to LM using blue dye alone.