Objective: To analyze the authors' experience with sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) and the subsequent incidence and pattern of recurrence in patients with positive and negative nodes.
Summary background data: Lymphatic mapping with SLNB has become widely accepted in the management of patients with melanoma who are at risk for occult regional lymph node metastases. Because this procedure is relatively new, the pattern of recurrence after SLNB is not yet clear.
Methods: All patients with primary cutaneous melanoma who underwent SLNB from 1991 through 1998 were identified from a prospective single-institution melanoma database.
Results: Three hundred fifty-seven consecutive patients with localized primary cutaneous melanoma who underwent SLNB were identified. The sentinel node was identified in 332 patients (93%) and was positive in 56 (17%). Fourteen percent of patients had developed a recurrence at a median follow-up of 24 months. The median time to recurrence was 13 months. The 3-year relapse-free survival rates for patients with positive and negative nodes were 56% and 75%, respectively. SLN status was the most important predictor of disease recurrence. The site of first recurrence in patients with negative and positive nodes was more commonly locoregional than distant. Reexamination of the SLN in 11 patients with negative nodes with initial nodal and in-transit recurrence showed evidence of metastases in 7 (64%).
Conclusions: Patients with positive sentinel nodes have a significantly increased risk for recurrence. The early pattern of first recurrence for patients with negative and positive results is characterized by a preponderance of locoregional sites, similar to that reported in previous series of elective lymph node dissection. These data underscore the need for careful pathologic analysis of the SLN as well as a careful, directed locoregional physical examination in the follow-up of these patients.