Exhaustive pathologic work-up in sentinel lymph node biopsy for melanoma: is it necessary?

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The objective of this study is to determine whether a less exhaustive pathologic work-up to detect melanoma metastasis is clinically useful and does not affect patient prognosis. The success and evolution of the sentinel lymph node (SLN) depends on histological techniques. Several exhaustive protocols of SLN analysis have been published, but are time and cost consuming, with slight increases in the rates of metastasis detection. From 281 patients with SLN biopsy, each SLN was sectioned every 2 mm and from each paraffin block, 2–3 histological sections were evaluated. The patients were divided as follows: the first group (n=185) was subjected to extensive SLN examination (eSLNe) and the second group (n=96) was not subjected to an extensive SLN examination (wSLNe). The average SLN resected was 2 (range: 1–7), evaluating one in 50.9%. The SLN metastasis detection rate was 28.5%, whereas eSLNe increased by 3.2%. During follow-up, 4/26 (17.4%) cases in the wSLNe group showed recurrence in the SLN basin. Factors associated with decreased survival in univariant analysis were recurrence, Breslow thickness, advanced clinical stage, ulceration, and SLN metastasis. eSLNe did not affect disease-specific survival. Multivariate analysis showed recurrence (hazard ratio 23.475, 95% confidence interval: 1903–4559, P<0.001) and Breslow thickness of more than 3.5 mm (hazard ratio 15.222, 95% confidence interval: 1448–3059, P<0.001) as independent risk factors for decreased survival. Our routine for SLN examination enabled an adequate rate of SLN metastasis detection and the eSLNe increased the rate of detection in 3.2%, but did not affect the survival. We did not find any benefit from performing the eSLNe in patients with Breslow thickness less than 3.5 mm.

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