Sentinel Node Biopsy for Melanoma: An Update After Two Decades of Experience

When detected and treated early, melanoma has an excellent prognosis. Unfortunately, as the tumor invades deeper into tissue the risk of metastatic spread to regional lymph nodes and beyond increases and the prognosis worsens significantly. Therefore, accurately detecting any regional lymphatic metastasis would significantly aid in determining a patient’s prognosis and help guide his or her treatment plan. In 1991, Don Morton and colleagues presented new paradigm in diagnosing regional lymphatic involvement of tumors termed sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB). By mapping the regional lymph system around a tumor and tracing the lymphatic flow, a determination of the most likely lymph node or nodes the cancer will spread to first is made. Then, a limited biopsy of the most likely nodes is performed rather than a more-invasive removal of the entire local lymphatic chain. In 20 years that have followed, a great deal of information has been gained as to its accuracy, prognostic value, appropriate candidates, and its impact on regional disease control and survival. The SLNB has been shown to accurately stage regional lymph node basins in stage I and II melanoma patients with minimal morbidity. More sensitive histologic techniques are now being applied that may allow even greater accuracy in the staging of melanoma patients. Although specific percent risk thresholds are still in question, recommendation for SLNB when melanomas are 1 mm or thicker has gained wide acceptance. SLNB may also be appropriate for patients with melanomas that are between 0.76 and 1 mm thick and have ulceration, high mitotic rates, or reach a Clark level IV. Therefore, melanomas with IB or greater staging should be considered for SLNB.
Semin Cutan Med Surg 29:238-248 © 2010 Published by Elsevier Inc.

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