Dilemma of clinically node-negative head and neck melanoma: outcome of "watch and wait" policy, elective lymph node dissection, and sentinel node biopsy--a systematic review

Head Neck. 2008 Mar;30(3):380-9. doi: 10.1002/hed.20749.


The management of patients with clinically node-negative melanoma of the head and neck remains controversial. This is a systematic review of management strategies for stage I head and neck melanoma. Subgroup analysis of 1 randomized controlled trial (RCT) and most available cohort studies do not reveal a significant impact of elective neck dissection on survival. For 1.2- to 3.5-mm-thick melanoma at all anatomical sites, 1 RCT does not show an overall significant melanoma-specific survival benefit of sentinel node biopsy, but subgroup analysis suggests a survival benefit for lymph node-positive patients, confirming findings from 3 retrospective series. Sentinel node biopsy in the head and neck region can be technically demanding, with lower identification rates and higher false-negative rates. There is no conclusive survival advantage of either elective neck dissection or sentinel node biopsy in patients with clinically node-negative head and neck melanoma of intermediate thickness.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Decision Making*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / mortality*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / pathology
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Lymph Nodes / pathology
  • Lymph Nodes / surgery
  • Melanoma / mortality*
  • Melanoma / pathology
  • Melanoma / therapy*
  • Neck Dissection
  • Radiotherapy, Adjuvant
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy
  • Survival Analysis