Is completion lymphadenectomy after a positive sentinel lymph node biopsy for cutaneous melanoma always necessary?

Arch Surg. 2004 Apr;139(4):400-4; discussion 404-5. doi: 10.1001/archsurg.139.4.400.


Hypothesis: Completion lymph node dissection (CLND) has usually been recommended after metastatic disease is identified in the sentinel lymph node (SLN) biopsy to eradicate further metastases in nonsentinel nodes. We hypothesized that patients with negative lymph nodes included in the initial SLN specimen have low risk of metastases in the residual draining basin and may not require CLND.

Design: Chart review.

Setting: University-affiliated tertiary care referral center.

Patients: Between January 1, 1997, and May 31, 2003, 506 consecutive patients underwent SLN biopsy for staging of primary cutaneous melanoma.

Intervention: The SLN biopsy identified 87 patients (17.2%) with metastatic melanoma, of whom 80 underwent CLND.

Results: In 28 patients, all SLNs were found to contain metastatic melanoma. Seven (25%) of these patients had additional metastases identified in the CLND specimen. In 52 patients, 1 or more SLNs did not contain metastatic melanoma. Five (10%) of these patients had additional metastases in the CLND specimen (P =.02).

Conclusions: Although no evidence of metastatic melanoma was found on CLND in most patients in whom negative nodes had been removed with positive SLNs at the initial biopsy, 10% of these patients did have further metastases. This subgroup of patients (positive SLNs and negative nodes in the SLN biopsy specimen) is at significantly lower risk for further metastasis, but CLND cannot be safely omitted even for these patients.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lymph Node Excision / methods*
  • Male
  • Melanoma / pathology*
  • Melanoma / surgery
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy / methods*
  • Skin Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Skin Neoplasms / surgery