Can surgical therapy alone achieve long-term cure of melanoma metastatic to regional nodes?

Shawn E. Young, Steve R. Martinez, Mark B. Faries, Richard Essner, Leslie A. Wanek, Donald L. Morton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Anecdotal reports of melanoma recurrence 15 years after complete lymphadenectomy have led to claims that the onset of nodal metastasis invariably signals systemic metastases and a terminal diagnosis. Few series in the literature are able to refute this assertion. We therefore examined rates of long-term (> 15-25 years) survival for patients with regional (nodal) melanoma. PATIENTS AND METHODS: We performed an analysis of patients with American Joint Committee on Cancer stage III melanoma entered into a prospective database for the last 30 years. All patients were seen at the treating institution within 4 months of their diagnosis and monitored thereafter. All patients underwent complete lymphadenectomy. Patients receiving melanoma vaccines were excluded. Statistical comparisons used Chisquare analysis and the log-rank test. RESULTS: At a maximum follow up of 386 months (32 years) for the population of 1422 patients, rates of 15-, 20-, and 25-year melanoma-specific survival were 36% ± 1%, 35% ± 1%, and 35% ± 1%, respectively. When patients were stratified by clinical status of regional lymph nodes, survival rates were significantly lower (P = 0.001) if nodes were palpable. The number of tumor-positive nodes (P < 0.0001), the pathological primary tumor stage (P = 0.005), age (P = 0.0001), and gender (P = 0.002) also were significantly related to long-term survival. DISCUSSION: Long-term survivors of melanoma metastatic to regional lymph nodes are not uncommon, and the extremely low rate of recurrence beyond 15 years suggests that this disease-free interval is usually synonymous with cure. Although some risk factors decrease the likelihood of long-term survival, the high overall rates of extended survival in all risk groups clearly support surgical management as the primary treatment for regional metastatic melanoma.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)207-211
Number of pages5
JournalCancer Journal
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Lymph node
  • Lymphadenectomy
  • Melanoma
  • Metastasis
  • Stage III
  • Surgery
  • Survival

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology


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