An estimated 73870 people will be diagnosed with melanoma in the United States in 2015, resulting in 9940 deaths. The majority of patients with cutaneous melanomas are cured with wide local excision. However, current evidence supports the use of sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) given the 15%-20% of patients who harbor regional node metastasis. More importantly, the presence or absence of nodal micrometastases has been found to be the most important prognostic factor in early-stage melanoma, particularly in intermediate thickness melanoma. This review examines the development of SLNB for melanoma as a means to determine a patient's nodal status, the efficacy of SLNB in patients with melanoma, and the biology of melanoma metastatic to sentinel lymph nodes. Prospective randomized trials have guided the development of practice guidelines for use of SLNB for melanoma and have shown the prognostic value of SLNB. Given the rapidly advancing molecular and surgical technologies, the technical aspects of diagnosis, identification, and management of regional lymph nodes in melanoma continues to evolve and to improve. Additionally, there is ongoing research examining both the role of SLNB for specific clinical scenarios and the ways to identify patients who may benefit from completion lymphadenectomy for a positive SLN. Until further data provides sufficient evidence to alter national consensus-based guidelines, SLNB with completion lymphadenectomy remains the standard of care for clinically node-negative patients found to have a positive SLN.
Keywords: Biologic characteristics; Melanoma; Metastasis; Review; Sentinel lymph node; Sentinel lymph node biopsy.