Background: The risk and outcome of regional failure after elective and therapeutic lymph node dissection (ELND/TLND) for microscopically and macroscopically involved lymph nodes without adjuvant radiotherapy were evaluated.
Methods: Retrospective melanoma database review of 338 patients (ELND 85, TLND 253) from 1970 to 1996 with pathologically involved lymph nodes.
Results: Regional recurrence occurred in 14% of patients treated with ELND (n = 12) and 28% of patients treated with TLND (n = 72; P = .009). Risk factors associated with nodal recurrence were advanced age, primary lesion in the head and neck region, depth of the primary lesion, number of involved lymph nodes, and extracapsular extension (ECE). For each nodal basin, the ELND group had a lower incidence of recurrence than the TLND group. The TLND group had larger lymph nodes, greater number of involved lymph nodes, and a higher incidence of ECE. The 10-year disease-specific survival was 51% vs. 30% for ELND and TLND, respectively (P = .0005). Nodal basin failure was predictive of distant metastasis, with 87% developing distant disease compared with 54% of patients without nodal recurrence (P < .0001). Of six patients who underwent a second dissection after isolated nodal recurrence, five patients have had a median disease-free interval of 79 months.
Conclusions: After ELND or TLND, patients who have a large tumor burden (thick primary melanoma, multiply involved lymph nodes, ECE), advanced age, and a primary lesion located in the head and neck have a significantly increased likelihood of relapse and a decreased survival. Few patients present with an isolated nodal recurrence, but the majority can be salvaged by a second dissection.