Radioguided Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy in Patients with Malignant Cutaneous Melanoma: The Nuclear Medicine Contribution

Giuliano Mariani, Paola Erba, Gianpiero Manca, Giuseppe Villa, Marco Gipponi, Giuseppe Boni, Ferdinando Buffoni, Sergio Suriano, Franca Castagnola, Mirco Bartolomei, H. William Strauss

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


As for other solid tumors, malignant cutaneous melanoma drains in a logical way through the lymphatic system, from the first to subsequent levels. Therefore, the first lymph node encountered (the sentinel node) will most likely be the first to be affected by metastasis, and a negative sentinel node makes it highly unlikely that other nodes in the same lymphatic basin are affected. Sentinel lymph node biopsy distinguishes patients without nodal metastases, who can avoid nodal basin dissection with its associated risk of lymphedema, and those with metastatic involvement who might benefit from additional therapy. This procedure represents a significant advantage as a minimally invasive procedure, considering that only an average 20% of melanoma patients with Breslow thickness between 1.5 and 4 mm harbour metastasis in their sentinel node(s) and are therefore candidates to elective lymph node dissection procedures. The cells that originate cutaneous melanomas are located between dermis and epidermis, a zone that drains to the inner lymphatic network in the reticular dermis, in turn to larger collecting lymphatics in subcutis. Therefore, the optimal modality of interstitial administration of radiocolloids for lymphoscintigraphy and subsequent radioguided sentinel lymph node biopsy is through intradermal/subdermal injection. 99mTc-labeled colloids in various size ranges are equally adequate for radioguided sentinel lymph node biopsy in patients with cutaneous melanoma, depending on local experience and availability. For melanomas located in the midline area of the head, neck, and trunk, particular consideration should be given to ambiguous lymphatic drainage, which frequently requires interstitial administration virtually all around the tumor or surgical scar from prior excision of the melanoma. Lymphoscintigraphy is an essential part of radioguided sentinel lymph node biopsy because images are used to direct the surgeon to the sites of the node(s). The sentinel lymph node should have a significantly higher count than that of background (at least 10:1 intraoperatively). After removal of the sentinel node, the surgical bed must be reexamined to ensure that all radioactive sites are identified and removed for analysis. The success rate of radioguidance in localizing the sentinel lymph node in melanoma patients is about 98% in institutions where a high number of procedures are performed, approaching 99% when combined with the vital blue dye technique. The procedure is becoming the standard of care for patients with cutaneous melanoma because of its high prognostic value that has led to include the procedure in the most recent version of the TNM staging system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-151
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Surgical Oncology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1 2004


  • Interstitial administration
  • Intraoperative gamma-probe guidance
  • Lymphoscintigraphy
  • Malignant cutaneous melanoma
  • Radiocolloid
  • Sentinel lymph node

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Oncology


Dive into the research topics of 'Radioguided Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy in Patients with Malignant Cutaneous Melanoma: The Nuclear Medicine Contribution'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this