, Volume 20, Issue 4, pp 1360-1364
Date: 20 Nov 2012

A Collision of Diseases: Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia Discovered During Lymph Node Biopsy for Melanoma

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In the United States in 2012, there were 16,060 new cases of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). Often CLL is clinically occult and first detected during pathologic evaluation of the sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB). We reviewed our experience of patients with the coexisting diagnosis of melanoma and CLL.


An institutional review board-approved review was performed on patients with CLL and melanoma treated from 1995 to 2009 at Moffitt Cancer Center and compared with the incidence of melanoma and CLL in our tumor registry patients with breast, prostate, lung, and colon cancer.


Fifty-two patients (44 males; median age, 71 years [range, 46–88]) were identified with concurrent diagnoses of melanoma and CLL. Twenty-two patients (42 %) had CLL on SLNB for their melanoma. Thirty-two patients (62 %) were diagnosed with melanoma before CLL. Concomitant or prior cancer diagnoses included nonmelanoma skin cancers (N = 29), prostate (N = 6), colorectal (N = 2), and Merkel cell carcinoma (N = 2). Five of 20 patients (25 %) had metastatic melanoma found at the time of SLNB. Patients with melanoma had a tenfold increase of CLL diagnosis compared with colorectal cancer patients, an eightfold increase compared to prostate cancer patients, and a fourfold increase compared with breast cancer patients.


We have confirmed an increased association of CLL and melanoma. This may be related to an underlying immunologic defect; however, there has been scant investigation into this phenomenon. Surgeons and pathologists should understand this occurrence and recognize that not all grossly enlarged or abnormal sentinel lymph nodes in melanoma patients represent melanoma.