Therapeutic lymph node dissections in patients with grossly palpable metastatic melanoma are performed to control regional disease, to salvage a small percentage of patients, and to obtain staging information. Patients with malignant melanoma may undergo elective lymph node dissections, when the basin is clinically negative, for three reasons. There is some evidence based on large retrospective studies that survival is increased in patients with intermediate thickness melanoma if elective lymph node dissections are performed as part of the initial treatment of the primary melanoma. Second, in a small percentage of patients, a previous elective lymph node dissection may have helped control disease in the regional lymphatics, so that more extensive procedures, including amputations, are not necessary. Another important reason is to obtain staging and prognostic information for the patient because most adjuvant protocols are based on the presence or absence of disease in the regional basin. During a 3-year period, 115 patients have undergone a regional nodal dissection at the Moffitt Cancer Center and James Haley VA Hospital as part of their surgical treatment. With a follow-up of 3 years, patients with 1 node positive do significantly better than those with more than 1 node positive in their dissection (p = 0.06). The percentage of nodes positive is also important. Those patients who have less than 10% of their nodes involved with metastatic melanoma have a better survival than those patients whose percentage is greater than 10% (p = 0.07).
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