Method of detection of initial recurrence of stage II/III cutaneous melanoma: analysis of the utility of follow-up staging

Ann Surg Oncol. 2009 Apr;16(4):941-7. doi: 10.1245/s10434-008-0238-y. Epub 2008 Dec 20.


Background: The follow-up of patients with cutaneous melanoma is controversial. Current recommendations suggest routine history and physical examination every 3 to 6 months for the first 3 years and correlate studies including laboratory tests and radiographic imaging. However, the utility of these recommendations are unclear. The purpose of this study was to determine the impact of routine imaging on the method of detection of first recurrence in patients with stage II and sentinel lymph node-positive stage III melanoma.

Methods: We analyzed a prospective database of all cutaneous melanoma patients treated at our institution from 1997 to 2005 who had at least 2 years of follow-up. The method of detection of initial recurrence was analyzed.

Results: One hundred eighteen patients with stage II (n = 83) or III (n = 35) melanoma who were followed for at least 2 years were identified. Forty-three of these patients developed recurrence (median time to recurrence, 14 months). Site of first recurrence was as follows: 4 local, 17 in transit, 7 regional lymph node, and 15 distant. Twenty-nine recurrences (67%) were either patient detected or symptomatic. Eleven (26%) were detected by the physician at routine follow-up. Only three (7%) were identified by imaging (two chest X-ray and one brain magnetic resonance imaging) in an otherwise asymptomatic patient.

Conclusions: Two-thirds of all initial recurrences of cutaneous melanoma were either detected by a patient or were symptomatic, with most of the remainder detected during routine physical examination. Routine imaging added little value in the detection of initial recurrence.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Melanoma / diagnosis*
  • Melanoma / pathology
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / diagnosis*
  • Neoplasm Staging
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Skin Neoplasms / diagnosis*
  • Skin Neoplasms / pathology
  • Young Adult