Journal Article
Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
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Judging the therapeutic value of lymph node dissections for melanoma.

BACKGROUND: The management of the regional lymph nodes remains controversial for early-stage melanoma and for those patients with lymph node metastases; American Joint Committee on Cancer stage III. This study examines the importance of quality of the surgical resection measured by the extent of lymph node dissection (quartile of the total number of lymph nodes removed) to determine if this factor is an important prognostic factor for survival.

STUDY DESIGN: We reviewed our computer-assisted database of more than 8,700 melanoma patients prospectively collected from 1971 through the present to identify patients who underwent lymph node dissection for stage III melanoma. We included only patients who had their nodal dissections performed at our institute. Patients who underwent sentinel lymph node dissection were excluded. These patients were then analyzed as a group and by individual lymphatic basins: cervical, axillary, and inguinal basins. Univariate and multivariate analyses were used to examine the model that included tumor burden, thickness of the primary melanoma, gender, age, clinical status of the lymph nodes (palpable versus not palpable), and the primary site. The survival and recurrence rates were analyzed using the Cox proportional hazards model.

RESULTS: Five hundred forty-eight patients underwent regional lymph node dissections. Of these patients, 214 underwent axillary dissections, 181 inguinal dissections, and 153 cervical dissections. The extent of the nodal dissections was based on the quartile of nodes excised, ranging from 1 to 98 (mean +/- SD = 25.8 +/- 15.8). Patients were stratified by tumor burden and quartile of number of lymph nodes removed. The overall 5-year survival of patients with four or more lymph nodes having tumor and the highest quartile of lymph nodes removed was 44% and was 23% for the lowest quartile of total lymph nodes excised (p = 0.05). By univariate analysis, tumor burden (p = 0.0001), quartile of total lymph nodes removed (p = 0.043), and primary site (p = 0.047) were statistically significant for predicting overall survival. Gender, clinical status of the nodes, primary tumor thickness, age, and dissected basin were not significant (p > 0.05). By multivariate analysis only the tumor burden (p = 0.0001) and quartile of lymph nodes resected (p = 0.044) were statistically significant.

CONCLUSIONS: The extent of lymph node dissection for melanoma when analyzed by quartiles is an independent factor in overall survival. This factor appears to be more important with increasing tumor burden in the lymphatic basin. The extent of lymph node dissection should be considered as a prognostic factor in the design of clinical trials that involve stage III melanoma.

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