Are we doing more harm than good? This has been a question that we have asked for decades regarding the treatment of malignant melanoma. Over the recent decades, margins of normal skin that are removed when treating melanoma have gotten smaller. Recently, the benefit of lymph node dissection to treat involved lymph nodes has come into question and has been recently studied.
According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, patients with intermediate-thickness melanomas (1.2- to 3.5mm Breslow’s Depth) who were found to have a positive lymph node with sentinel lymph node biopsy (tumor in the lymph nodes), were not more likely to survive after having a lymph node dissection than not.
While removal of the lymph nodes resulting in better regional disease control, it did not increase melanoma-specific survival rates. In addition, patients whom have had lymph node dissection were more likely to have lymphedema (swelling).
What is clear is that early detection and treatment of melanoma is paramount to having a good outcome. Luckily, most melanomas grow laterally for years before they grow deeper. Increased patient awareness and education has resulted in earlier detection rates in the U.S. Unfortunately, once the tumor has spread, science has been unable to find a therapy that offers a “cure” for most patients. Medical advances have been made and may increase survival rates by 10% and continued research will likely improve upon these rates.
For all patients, early detection is key. Self-examination is recommended for patients. Any new or changing moles should be evaluated by a board-certified Dermatologist. “When in doubt, cut it out”–my slogan which means if there is a question of whether a lesion is melanoma, take a biopsy.
Patients whom have many moles should take photos and evaluate every 3 months for changes. There are several phone apps to assist with this.