Introduction: Although sentinel lymph node (SLN) status is the most powerful predictor of prognosis in patients with clinically localized melanoma, a proportion of melanoma patients with histologically negative SLNs will still recur. It is hypothesized that tumor response may be altered or mediated by specific cytokines. We therefore investigated whether levels of IL-4, IL-6, IL-10, TNF-alpha, or IFN-gamma would predict disease recurrence in melanoma patients with histologically negative SLNs.
Methods: This prospective cohort study involved 218 patients with clinically localized melanoma who underwent a histologically negative SLN biopsy. Preoperative plasma cytokine levels were determined by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay on these patients, as well as on 90 healthy controls. Kaplan-Meier life tables were constructed, and Cox proportional hazards analyses were performed to assess predictors of disease-free survival (DFS).
Results: At a median follow-up of 43 months, 33 of 218 patients (15%) had suffered disease recurrence. Melanoma patients had significant elevations of IL-4, IL-6, and IL-10 compared to healthy controls; levels of IFN-gamma were less elevated in melanoma patients compared to controls. Despite this, melanoma patients with detectable IFN-gamma levels were at significantly higher risk for recurrence compared to patients with undetectable levels (5-year DFS 70% vs. 86%, P = .03). On multivariate analysis including standard melanoma prognostic factors, only tumor thickness (P = .004) and the presence of detectable IFN-gamma levels (P = .05) were significant independent prognostic factors for disease-free survival.
Conclusions: Among melanoma patients with clinically localized disease who have undergone a histologically negative SLN biopsy, presence of a detectable plasma level of IFN-gamma is an independent predictor of disease recurrence. Elevated levels of IFN-gamma may identify a group of early-stage melanoma patients who are more likely to have recurrence of disease and who may benefit from adjuvant therapies, including immunotherapies.