The sentinel lymph node (SLN) is the first node in a nodal basin to receive the direct lymphatic flow from a malignant melanoma. However, in some patients, lymphoscintigraphic study reveals the presence of lymphatic nodes in the area between the primary melanoma and the regional basin. These nodes are called “in-transit nodes” or “interval nodes” and, by definition, are also SLNs. The purpose of this study was to determine the incidence and location of in-transit SLNs in patients with malignant melanoma and to assess whether it is really necessary to harvest them. The evaluation involved 600 consecutive malignant melanoma patients. Lymphoscintigraphy was performed on the day before surgery following intradermal injection of 74–111 MBq of 99mTc-nanocolloid in four doses around the primary melanoma or the biopsy scar. Dynamic and static images were obtained and revealed SLNs in 599 out of 600 patients. The SLN was intraoperatively identified with the aid of patent blue dye and a hand-held gamma probe. Lymphoscintigraphy showed in-transit SLNs in 59/599 patients (9.8%). During surgery, all these in-transit SLNs were harvested, with those in the popliteal and epitrochlear regions being the most difficult to identify and excise. Metastatic cell deposits were subsequently identified in ten (16.9%) of these in-transit SLNs. In conclusion, lymphoscintigraphy has a key role in the identification of in-transit SLNs. Although the incidence of these nodes is relatively low in malignant melanoma patients, such SLNs present metastatic deposits in a significant percentage of cases and therefore the identification of in-transit SLNs in these patients is really necessary.
This work was supported in part by grants from Fondo de Investigaciones Sanitarias (FIS 1023/00) and Instituto de Salud Carlos III, Red Temática del Cáncer no. C03/10.
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