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Publication Date

2-28-2014

Keywords

melanoma, head and neck, sentinel lymph node biopsy

Abstract

The incidence of melanoma in the United States continues to rise. Head and neck melanomas comprise approximately 20% of all primary cutaneous melanomas. Sentinel lymph node (SLN) biopsy (SLNB) has become the standard of care for staging in melanoma. It has a number of advantages, including the addition of prognostic information, accurate staging, and the potential to add completion lymph node dissection (CLND) or adjuvant therapy when indicated. Furthermore, it may allow for the identification of patients who would benefit from inclusion in clinical trials; this advantage may be amplified based on the introduction of novel targeted therapies.

SLNB does have some disadvantages in head and neck melanomas. The complex lymphatic drainage and anatomy of the head and neck can result in some technical challenges. SLN positivity rates in head and neck melanoma are lower than for trunk or extremity melanoma; despite this, overall and disease free survival rates are lower in head and neck melanoma.

This review examines the literature evidence for the efficacy of SLNB in head and neck melanoma, and in particular attempts to estimate five variables: the likelihood of finding a SLN, the number of SLNs found, the likelihood of a positive SLN, the likelihood of identifying positive non-sentinel lymph nodes on CLND, and the likelihood of recurrence in the neck despite a negative SLNB.

Overall, despite the technical challenges inherent in SLNB when applied to head and neck melanoma, it remains a technically feasible and effective procedure in this anatomic site.

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