RESEARCH SUPPORT, NON-U.S. GOV'T
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Prospective multi-institutional study of reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction for molecular staging of melanoma.

PURPOSE: To evaluate the prognostic significance of molecular staging using reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) in detecting occult melanoma cells in sentinel lymph nodes (SLNs) and circulating bloodstream.

PATIENTS AND METHODS: In this multicenter study, eligibility criteria included patient age 18 to 71 years, invasive melanoma > or = 1.0 mm Breslow thickness, and no clinical evidence of metastasis. SLN biopsy and wide excision of the primary tumor were performed. SLNs were examined by serial-section histopathology and S-100 immunohistochemistry. A portion of each SLN was frozen for RT-PCR. In addition, RT-PCR was performed on peripheral-blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs). RT-PCR analysis was performed using four markers: tyrosinase, MART1, MAGE3, and GP-100. Disease-free survival (DFS), distant-DFS (DDFS), and overall survival (OS) were analyzed.

RESULTS: A total of 1,446 patients with histologically negative SLNs underwent RT-PCR analysis. At a median follow-up of 30 months, there was no difference in DFS, DDFS, or OS between the RT-PCR-positive (n = 620) and RT-PCR-negative (n = 826) patients. Analysis of PBMC from 820 patients revealed significant differences in DFS and DDFS, but not OS, for patients with detection of more than one RT-PCR marker in peripheral blood.

CONCLUSION: In this large, prospective, multi-institutional study, RT-PCR analysis on SLNs and PBMCs provides no additional prognostic information beyond standard histopathologic analysis of SLNs. Detection of more than one marker in PBMC is associated with a worse prognosis. RT-PCR remains investigational and should not be used to direct adjuvant therapy at this time.

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