Hypothesis: Elective lymph node dissection does not improve survival in patients with melanoma without clinically detectable lymph node metastases.
Objective: To determine whether elective lymph node dissection in patients with melanoma without clinically detectable regional metastases decreases overall mortality.
Design: Systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials comparing elective lymph node dissection with delayed lymphadenectomy at the time of clinical recurrence.
Setting: Randomized controlled trials available by February 2001.
Subjects: The included trials comprised 1533 participants.
Intervention: Elective lymph node dissection compared with delayed lymphadenectomy or no lymphadenectomy in patients with melanoma without clinically detectable regional metastases.
Main outcome measure: Overall mortality in treatment groups as compared with control groups at the end of a 5-year follow-up period.
Results: Three randomized controlled trials met the inclusion criteria. The pooled odds ratio for overall mortality for the 3 trials was 0.86 (95% confidence interval, 0.68-1.09). Results are statistically nonsignificant, but they have potential clinical significance.
Conclusions: This systematic review of randomized controlled trials comparing elective lymph node dissection with surgery delayed until the time of clinical recurrence shows no significant overall survival benefit for patients undergoing elective lymph node dissection. Trials included in this review, however, contain significant bias. The question is not answered for all patients, and the results do not exclude the possibility that some subgroups may benefit from elective lymph node dissection. Further research is required.