Impact of molecular staging methods in primary melanoma: reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) of ultrasound-guided aspirate of the sentinel node does not improve diagnostic accuracy, but RT-PCR of peripheral blood does predict survival.
PURPOSE: This study analyzes (1) the value of tyrosinase reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) of aspirates obtained by ultrasound-guided fine-needle aspiration cytology (US-FNAC) of sentinel nodes (SNs) in patients with melanoma before sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) and (2) the value of RT-PCR of blood samples of all SLNB patients. PATIENTS AND METHODS: Between 2001 and 2003, 127 patients with melanoma (median Breslow depth, 2.1 mm) underwent SLNB. FNAC was performed in all SNs of all patients pre- and post-SLNB. The aspirates were partly shock-frozen for RT-PCR and were partly used for standard cytology. Peripheral blood was collected at the time of SLNB and at every outpatient visit thereafter. RESULTS: Thirty-four (23%) of 120 SNs were positive for melanoma. SN involvement was predicted by US-FNAC with a sensitivity of 82% and a specificity of 72%. Additional tyrosinase RT-PCR revealed the same sensitivity of 82% and a specificity of 72%. At a median follow-up time of 40 months from first blood sample, peripheral-blood RT-PCR was a significant independent predictor of disease-free survival (DFS) and overall survival (OS; P < .001). CONCLUSION: US-FNAC is highly accurate and eliminates the need for SLNB in 16% of all SLNB patients. RT-PCR of the aspirate or excised SN does not improve sensitivity or specificity. RT-PCR of blood samples predicts DFS and OS.