Background: Surgical excision can cure most patients with malignant melanoma of the skin. However, the risk of recurrence remains for years. The aim of our study was to identify factors that influence time to recurrence and survival after the first recurrence with a special interest in late recurrences.
Methods: Data from 2487 patients with malignant melanoma and primary treatment between 1978 and 1997 at the Department of Surgery or the Department of Dermatology, University Hospital Erlangen, Germany, were prospectively collected in the Melanoma Registry of the University Hospital Erlangen. After a median follow-up period of 13 years, overall survival, the time to first recurrence and survival after the first relapse were examined in univariate and multivariate analyses.
Results: Overall survival was found to be significantly worse in older patients, men, melanoma of the head or trunk, and melanoma with high pT and pN categories. In 523 patients, relapse from malignant melanoma was observed after a median of 24 months. Among patients with recurrences, young age and low pT and pN categories proved to be independent factors that prolonged the disease-free interval. Advanced age at the time of the recurrence diagnosis, male sex, high pN category, and distant metastases as the first manifestation of recurrence were associated with a poor prognosis after the first recurrence.
Conclusions: Although thin lesions have a favorable prognosis, among a cohort with recurrences they showed a relatively high rate of late recurrences. These late recurrences have an extremely poor prognosis when they present with distant metastases.