Use and Costs of Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy in Non-Ulcerated T1b Melanoma: Analysis of a Population-Based Registry

Ann Surg Oncol. 2021 Jul;28(7):3470-3478. doi: 10.1245/s10434-021-09998-6. Epub 2021 Apr 26.


Background: The utility of sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) for non-ulcerated T1b melanoma is debated and associated costs are poorly characterized. Prior work using institutional registries may overestimate the incidence of nodal positivity in this population.

Objective: The aim of this study was to estimate the use of SLNB, positivity prevalence, and procedural costs in patients with non-ulcerated T1b melanoma using a population-based registry.

Methods: We identified patients with clinically node-negative, non-ulcerated melanoma 0.8-1.0 mm thick (T1b according to the 8th edition standard of the American Joint Committee on Cancer) in the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results database from 2010 to 2016. The prevalence of SLNB procedures and positive sentinel nodes were calculated. Factors associated with SLNB and sentinel node positivity were assessed using logistic regression. Medicare reimbursement costs and patient out-of-pocket expenses for SLNB and wide local excision (WLE) versus WLE alone were estimated.

Results: Among 7245 included patients, 3835(53%) underwent SLNB, 156 (4.1%, 95% confidence interval 3.5-4.7) of whom had a positive SLNB. Younger age, >1 mitosis per mm2, female sex, and truncal tumor location were associated with higher odds of positivity. The estimated SLNB cost to identify one patient with stage III disease was $71,700 (range $54,648-$83,172). Out-of-pocket expenses for a Medicare patient were estimated to be $652 for a WLE and SLNB and $79 for a WLE alone.

Conclusions: In this population-based study, only 4% of selected non-ulcerated T1b patients had a positive SLNB, which is lower than prior reports. At the population level, SLNB is associated with high costs per prognostic information gained.

Keywords: Cost; Melanoma; Sentinel node biopsy.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Medicare
  • Melanoma* / surgery
  • Prognosis
  • Registries
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy
  • Sentinel Lymph Node* / surgery
  • Skin Neoplasms* / surgery
  • United States / epidemiology