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Cervical sentinel lymph node biopsy for melanomas of the head and neck and upper thorax.

OBJECTIVE: To describe a clinical experience with sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) of head and neck nodal basins for clinical stage I melanomas draining to these areas.

DESIGN: Consecutive clinical case series with a mean follow-up of 10.7 months.

SETTING: University tertiary care referral medical center.

PATIENTS: Seventy patients with clinical stage I cutaneous melanoma who underwent SLNB of cervical and/or parotid lymph node basins.

INTERVENTIONS: Patients underwent same-day preoperative technetium Tc 99m lymphoscintigraphy followed by SLNB using gamma probe and blue dye (66 patients) and blue dye alone (4 patients). Patients with histological evidence of tumor (here in after "positive") according to SLNB results underwent modified cervical completion lymph node dissection, including parotidectomy, as appropriate. Patients without histological evidence of tumor (hereinafter "negative") according to SLNB results were followed up clinically without undergoing completion lymph node dissection.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: The rates of SLNB success, SLNB positivity, completion lymph node dissection positivity, complications, and SLNB false-negative results were determined by clinical follow-up.

RESULTS: Locations of melanomas in the 70 patients were the face (n = 20), neck (n = 14), ear (n = 9), scalp (n = 9), and upper thorax (n = 18). Locations of basins that underwent biopsy (n = 104) were in the cervical (n = 68), parotid (n = 19), and axillary (n = 17) regions. The mean Breslow thickness was 2.1 mm (range, 0.4-12.0 mm). Sentinel lymph node biopsy was successful in 103 basins (99%). The mean number of sentinel lymph nodes per basin was 2.5 (range, 1.0-8.0). Positive sentinel lymph nodes were found in 12 patients (17%) and 15 basins (14%). Sentinel lymph node biopsy results correlated with the American Joint Committee on Cancer tumor stage (P = .05) and a Breslow thickness of 1.23 mm or greater (P = .03). Additional tumor-containing nodes were noted in 5 (42%) of the 12 patients who underwent completion lymph node dissection, and these results correlated with the presence of multiple positive sentinel lymph nodes (P = .01). There were complications in 3 patients (4%) (seromas in 2 patients and temporary spinal accessory nerve paresis in 1 patient). One nodal recurrence in a basin that was negative according to SLNB results (SLNB with blue dye only) was noted (false-negative rate, 2%). The results of SLNB were accurate in 69 patients (99%).

CONCLUSIONS: Sentinel lymph node biopsy using lymphoscintigraphy and blue dye to manage cutaneous melanomas draining to the head and neck nodal areas is reliable and safe. Sentinel lymph node biopsy results correlated with a Breslow thickness of 1.23 mm or greater and the American Joint Committee on Cancer tumor stage. Completion lymph node dissection is recommended after determining positive SLNB results.

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