Predictors of False Negative Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy in Clinically Localized Merkel Cell Carcinoma

Ann Surg Oncol. 2021 Nov;28(12):6995-7003. doi: 10.1245/s10434-021-10031-z. Epub 2021 Apr 22.


Background: Sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) is routinely recommended for clinically localized Merkel cell carcinoma (MCC); however, predictors of false negative (FN) SLNB are undefined.

Methods: Patients from six centers undergoing wide excision and SLNB for stage I/II MCC (2005-2020) were identified and were classified as having either a true positive (TP), true negative (TN) or FN SLNB. Predictors of FN SLNB were identified and survival outcomes were estimated.

Results: Of 525 patients, 28 (5.4%), 329 (62.7%), and 168 (32%) were classified as FN, TN, and TP, respectively, giving an FN rate of 14.3% and negative predictive value of 92.2% for SLNB. Median follow-up for SLNB-negative patients was 27 months, and median time to nodal recurrence for FN patients was 7 months. Male sex (hazard ratio [HR] 3.15, p = 0.034) and lymphovascular invasion (LVI) (HR 2.22, p = 0.048) significantly correlated with FN, and increasing age trended toward significance (HR 1.04, p = 0.067). The 3-year regional nodal recurrence-free survival for males >75 years with LVI was 78.5% versus 97.4% for females ≤75 years without LVI (p = 0.009). Five-year disease-specific survival (90.9% TN vs. 51.3% FN, p < 0.001) and overall survival (69.9% TN vs. 48.1% FN, p = 0.035) were significantly worse for FN patients.

Conclusion: Failure to detect regional nodal microscopic disease by SLNB is associated with worse survival in clinically localized MCC. Males, patients >75 years, and those with LVI may be at increased risk for FN SLNB. Consideration of increased nodal surveillance following negative SLNB in these high-risk patients may aid in early identification of regional nodal recurrences.

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Merkel Cell* / surgery
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lymphatic Metastasis
  • Male
  • Neoplasm Recurrence, Local / surgery
  • Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy
  • Sentinel Lymph Node* / surgery
  • Skin Neoplasms* / surgery