Summary background data: The more intensive sentinel node (SN) pathologic workup, the higher the SN-positivity rate. This is characterized by an increased detection of cases with minimal tumor burden (SUB-micrometastasis <0.1 mm), which represents different biology.
Methods: The slides of positive SN from 3 major centers within the European Organization of Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC) Melanoma Group were reviewed and classified according to the Rotterdam Classification of SN Tumor Burden (<0.1 mm; 0.1-1 mm; >1 mm) maximum diameter of the largest metastasis. The predictive value for additional nodal metastases in the completion lymph node dissection (CLND) and disease outcome as disease-free survival (DFS) and overall survival (OS) was calculated.
Results: In 388 SN positive patients, with primary melanoma, median Breslow thickness was 4.00 mm; ulceration was present in 56%. Forty patients (10%) had metastases <0.1 mm. Additional nodal positivity was found in only 1 of 40 patients (3%). At a mean follow-up of 41 months, estimated OS at 5 years was 91% for metastasis <0.1 mm, 61% for 0.1 to 1.0 mm, and 51% for >1.0 mm (P < 0.001). SN tumor burden increased significantly with tumor thickness. When the cut-off value for SUB-micrometastases was taken at <0.2 mm (such as in breast cancer), the survival was 89%, and 10% had additional non-SN nodal positivity.
Conclusion: This large multicenter dataset establishes that patients with SUB-micrometastases <0.1 mm have the same prognosis as SN negative patients and can be spared a CLND. A <0.2 mm cut-off for SUB-micrometastases does not seem correct for melanoma, as 10% additional nodal positivity is found.