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Ann Dermatol Venereol. 2003 Apr;130(4):417-22.

[Significance of sentinel lymph node biopsy in Merkel cell carcinoma. Analysis of 11 cases].

[Article in French]

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Service de Dermatologie, Institut Gustave Roussy, Villejuif.



Merkel cell carcinoma is an aggressive cutaneous neoplasm with a high propensity for nodal metastases. Regional lymph node involvement develops in 45 to 65 p. 100 of patients. We evaluated in Merkel cell carcinoma the use of sentinel lymph node biopsy which allows the identification of occult nodal metastases.


Eleven patients diagnosed with Merkel cell carcinoma without clinical nodal involvement underwent pre-operative lymphoscintigraphy followed by sentinel lymphadenectomy with histologic analysis. Identification of microscopic nodal metastases led to complete lymph node dissection and adjuvant radiation therapy to the lymph node basin.


The sentinel lymph node was successfully identified in 9 patients. Two patients demonstrated metastatic disease in their sentinel lymph nodes. At subsequent complete node dissection, one of two patients had an additional metastatic lymph node. None of the eleven patients experienced recurrent disease at a follow-up varying from 1 to 42 months. One patient with a negative sentinel lymph node experienced lymphoedema.


Our results are consistent with the 14 published studies which totalled 93 patients with Merkel cell carcinoma and identified 29 patients (30 p. 100) with nodal involvement. Metastatic disease was identified only after immunohistochemical analysis in 20 p. 100 of these patients (n=6). Lymph node involvement appears to be a bad prognostic factor with 29.6 p. 100 of disease recurrence, as opposed to 3 p. 100 in patients with an uninvolved sentinel lymph node. Although the prognostic significance of this technique seems interesting, there is no optimal therapeutic approach to sentinel lymph node involvement.

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