Annals of Surgical Oncology

, Volume 11, Supplement 3, pp 179S–185S

Lymphatic drainage of the skin


DOI: 10.1007/BF02523625

Cite this article as:
Uren, R.F. Annals of Surgical Oncology (2004) 11: 179S. doi:10.1007/BF02523625


A successful sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) in melanoma patients requires an accurate map of the pattern of lymphatic drainage from the primary site. Lymphoscintigraphy (LS) can provide such a map. LS needs an understanding of lymphatic physiology, an appropriate small-particle radiocolloid, high-resolution collimators, and imaging protocols that detect all sentinel nodes (SNs). Patterns of lymphatic drainage from the skin are not clinically predictable. Unexpected drainage has been found from the skin of the back to SNs in the triangular intermuscular space (TIS) and the paraaortic, paravertebral, and retroperitoneal areas. It can also occur from the base of the neck up to nodes in the occipital or upper cervical areas or from the scalp down to nodes at the neck base, bypassing many node groups. Upper limb drainage can be to SNs above the axilla. Interval nodes not uncommonly can be SNs, especially on the trunk. Lymphatic drainage may involve SNs in multiple nodal fields, and drainage across the midline of the body is quite common. Because micrometastatic disease can be present in any SN regardless of its location, all true SNs must be biopsied. LS is an important first step to ensure this goal is achieved.

Key Words

LymphoscintigraphyLymphatic drainageMelanomaSentinel node biopsySkin

Copyright information

© The Society of Surgical Oncology, Inc. 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Divisions of Nuclear Medicine and Diagnostic UltrasoundRPAH Medical CentreNewtownAustralia
  2. 2.The Department of MedicineThe University of SydneySydney
  3. 3.The Sydney Melanoma UnitRoyal Prince Alfred HospitalCamperdownAustralia