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Ann Surg Oncol. 2013 Mar;20(3):956-63. doi: 10.1245/s10434-012-2701-z. Epub 2012 Oct 14.

Diversity of stage III melanoma in the era of sentinel lymph node biopsy.

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  • 1Department of Surgery, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY, USA.



Sentinel lymph node (SLN) biopsy for melanoma often detects minimal nodal tumor burden. Although all node-positive patients are considered stage III, there is controversy regarding the necessity of adjuvant therapy for all patients with tumor-positive SLN.


Post hoc analysis was performed of a prospective multi-institutional study of patients with melanoma ≥ 1.0 mm Breslow thickness. All patients underwent SLN biopsy; completion lymphadenectomy was performed for patients with SLN metastasis. Kaplan-Meier analysis of disease-free survival (DFS) and overall survival (OS) was performed. Univariate and multivariate Cox regression analyses were performed. Classification and regression tree (CART) analysis also was performed.


A total of 509 patients with tumor-positive SLN were evaluated. Independent risk factors for worse OS included thickness, age, gender, presence of ulceration, and tumor-positive non-SLN (nodal metastasis found on completion lymphadenectomy). As the number of tumor-positive SLN and the total number of tumor-positive nodes (SLN and non-SLN) increased, DFS and OS worsened on Kaplan-Meier analysis. On CART analysis, the 5-year OS rates ranged from 84.9% (women with thickness < 2.1 mm, age < 59 years, no ulceration, and tumor-negative non-SLN) to 14.3% (men with thickness ≥ 2.1 mm, age ≥ 59 years, ulceration present, and tumor-positive non-SLN). Six distinct subgroups were identified with 5-year OS in excess of 70%.


Stage III melanoma in the era of SLN is associated with a very wide range of prognosis. CART analysis of prognostic factors allows discrimination of low-risk subgroups for which adjuvant therapy may not be warranted.

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