To clarify and update workup and follow-up strategies based on fundamental principles and current data, and to discuss new and current concepts regarding sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB), particularly in relation to the staging workup.
Studies conducted from 1995 to 2003 were identified by PubMed search. Additional searches included workup for reference lists of retrieved articles when applicable, and PubMed-related articles.
Contemporary studies with good design, conclusions based on sound methods, and results pertaining to staging workup, SLNB, and follow-up tests were critically reviewed.
Data and conclusions based on the above studies were incorporated into a review.
Routine tests have marginal to no efficacy and are not cost-efficient for detecting occult disease in asymptomatic patients with localized melanoma. The only staging test that has relatively high sensitivity and specificity and provides tissue diagnosis is SLNB; moreover, SLNB has revolutionized our understanding of lymphatic pathways. The concepts of interval nodes and unexpected lymphatic drainage pathways have been addressed by several recent reports. There are no data that demonstrate any significant difference in overall survival for detection of asymptomatic vs symptomatic stage IV melanoma.
An initial workup is useful for staging and prognosis to identify occult disease, with potential outcome benefit if treated early; and, by detecting distant occult disease (stage IV), to obviate the need for an extensive surgical procedure and thereby avoid associated increased morbidity. The foundation for the workup and follow-up remains thorough history taking and a physical examination, combined with a low index of suspicion for symptom-directed tests.