Detection of Micrometastasis in Sentinel Lymph Nodes of Patients with Primary Cutaneous Melanoma

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The technique of sentinel lymph node (SLN) biopsy has been demonstrated to be highly predictive for the detection of melanoma micrometastases in the regional lymph node basin. Therefore, the SLN was proposed to accurately reflect the lymph node status of patients with primary cutaneous melanoma. As the regional lymph node status is one of the most powerful predictors of survival in patients with primary melanoma, the histopathologic assessment is critically important for accurate staging. In approximately 20% (ranging from 9% to 42%) of patients with primary melanoma, the SLN was found to be tumor-positive by histopathology or immunohistochemistry. However, the true incidence of metastatic melanoma cells in (sentinel) lymph nodes is underestimated by histopathologic examination. Recently, the method of reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) for tyrosinase mRNA has been used as a molecular marker for the presence of melanoma cells. Tyrosinase RT-PCR was demonstrated to significantly increase the detection of melanoma cells in SLNs as compared to histopathology. All lymph nodes positive by histopathology were shown to express tyrosinase by RT-PCR. Furthermore, tyrosinase transcripts were also detected in 36–52% of stage I and II melanoma patients with SLNs negative by histopathology. Importantly, the recurrence rate was significantly higher in patients with histologically negative SLNs who were found to be positive by RT-PCR than in patients with negative results by both techniques. These findings indicate that RT-PCR status of the SLN is more sensitive for detection of minimal melanoma disease than histopathology. Therefore, the RT-PCR status of the SLN may be suitable to improve melanoma staging and may serve as a prognostic factor in patients with primary cutaneous melanoma.