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Sentinel lymph node biopsy in the management of cutaneous head and neck melanoma.

Sentinel lymph node biopsy has revolutionized the surgical management of primary malignant melanoma. Most series on sentinel lymph node mapping have concentrated on extremity and truncal melanomas. The head and neck region has a rich and unpredictable lymphatic system. The use of sentinel lymph node mapping in the management of head and neck melanoma is evaluated. The authors conducted a retrospective review of patients treated for clinical stage I and stage II malignant melanoma of the head and neck with dynamic lymphoscintigraphy and gamma probe-guided sentinel lymph node biopsy. One hundred thirty-two patients (99 male patients and 33 female patients) were identified. The primary melanoma sites were the scalp (n = 54), ear (n = 14), face (n = 37), and neck (n = 27). Primary tumor staging was as follows: T1, 11; T2, 38; T3, 39; and T4, 44. Dynamic lymphoscintigraphy visualized sentinel lymph nodes in 128 patients (97 percent). In 71 cases (55 percent), a single draining nodal basin was identified, and in 57 cases there were multiple draining nodal basins (two basins, 55; three basins, two). Sentinel lymph nodes were successfully identified in 176 of 186 nodal basins (95 percent). Positive sentinel lymph nodes were identified in 22 patients (17.6 percent). Sentinel lymph node positivity by tumor staging was as follows: T2, 10.8 percent; T3, 19.4 percent; and T4, 26.8 percent. Completion lymphadenectomy revealed residual disease in seven patients (33.3 percent). Sentinel lymph node mapping for head and neck melanoma can be performed with results comparable to those of other anatomical sites.

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