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Melanoma/Skin Cancer Health Center

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Melanoma Treatment (PDQ®): Treatment - Health Professional Information [NCI] - Resectable Stage III Melanoma Treatment

Standard Treatment Options for Resectable Stage III Melanoma

Standard treatment options for resectable stage III melanoma include the following:

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  1. Excision with or without lymph node management.


The primary tumor may be treated with wide local excision with 1-cm to 3-cm margins, depending on tumor thickness and location.[1,2,3,4,5,6,7] Skin grafting may be necessary to close the resulting defect.

Lymph node management

Sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB)

Lymphatic mapping and SLNB can be considered to assess the presence of occult metastases in the regional lymph nodes of patients with primary tumors larger than 1 mm to 4 mm, potentially identifying individuals who may be spared the morbidity of regional lymph node dissections (LNDs) and individuals who may benefit from adjuvant therapy.[3,8,9,10,11,12]

To ensure accurate identification of the sentinel lymph node (SNL), lymphatic mapping and removal of the SLN should precede wide excision of the primary melanoma.

Multiple studies have demonstrated the diagnostic accuracy of SLNB, with false-negative rates of 0% to 2%.[8,12,13,14,15,16,17] If metastatic melanoma is detected, a complete regional lymphadenectomy can be performed in a second procedure.

Complete lymph node dissection (CLND)

Patients can be considered for CLND if the sentinel node(s) is microscopically or macroscopically positive for regional control or considered for entry into the Multicenter Selective Lymphadenectomy Trial II to determine whether CLND affects survival. SLNB should be performed prior to wide excision of the primary melanoma to ensure accurate lymphatic mapping.

Adjuvant Therapy

Interferon alpha-2b

Prospective, randomized, multicenter treatment trials have demonstrated that high-dose interferon alpha-2b and pegylated interferon, both approved for the adjuvant treatment of patients at high risk for relapse, can improve relapse-free survival (RFS) but do not improve overall survival (OS). Agents that have demonstrated improved OS in patients with recurrent or metastatic disease are now being tested in clinical trials of adjuvant therapy in patients at high risk for relapse after surgical resection of tumor. These trials include NCT01274338, NCT01667419, and NCT01682083.

Evidence (high-dose alpha interferon):

  1. A multicenter, randomized, controlled study (EST-1690) compared a high-dose interferon alpha regimen with either a low-dose regimen of interferon alpha-2b (3 mU/m2 of body surface per day given subcutaneously three times per week for 104 weeks) or observation. The stage entry criteria for this trial included patients with stage II and III melanoma. This three-arm trial enrolled 642 patients.[14][Level of evidence: 1iiA]
    • At a median follow-up of 52 months, a statistically significant RFS advantage was shown for all patients who received high-dose interferon (including the clinical stage II patients) when compared with the observation group (P = .03).
    • No statistically significant RFS advantage was seen for patients who received low-dose interferon when compared with the observation group.
    • The 5-year estimated RFS rate was 44% for the high-dose interferon group, 40% for the low-dose interferon group, and 35% for the observation group.
    • Neither high-dose nor low-dose interferon yielded an OS benefit when compared with observation (hazard ratio [HR], 1.0; P = .995).
    • Pooled analyses (EST-1684 and EST-1690) of the high-dose arms versus the observation arms suggest that treatment confers a significant RFS advantage but not a significant benefit for survival.
  2. A randomized, multicenter, national trial, ECOG-1697 [NCT00003641], evaluated high-dose intravenous interferon for a short duration (1 month) versus observation in patients with node-negative melanoma at least 2 mm thick or with any thickness and positive sentinel nodes. This trial was closed at interim analysis because of the lack of benefit from treatment with interferon.
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