Can lymphatic drainage of head and neck melanoma be predicted?

Jesse D. Jensen, Richard J. Gray, Nabil Wasif, Michael C. Roarke, William J. Casey, Peter Kreymerman, Barbara A. Pockaj

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Background The lymphatic drainage patterns of the head and neck (H&N) is complex. Therefore, identification of the sentinel lymph node (SLN) for H&N melanoma can be challenging. Methods Retrospective review of a prospectively collected melanoma database, from February 1997 through October 2008, identified 137 patients with H&N melanoma. All underwent pre-operative lymphoscintigraphy, and after 2007, patients underwent single photon emission computed tomography combined with computed tomography (SPECT/CT). Results The mean number of SLNs per patient was 2.6. An SLN was successfully identified in 97% of patients, and in 9%, the SLN was positive for metastatic disease. The majority of patients (88%) drained to a unilateral level. Bilateral drainage occurred in 10%, with only two patients draining outside of the neck. The majority of patients (58%) had an SLN in level IIa (jugulodigastric lymph nodes). The regional recurrence rate was 4%, which all occurred prior to the use of SPECT/CT. Discussion Utilization of SPECT/CT and knowledge of common lymphatic drainage patterns in neck lymph node levels can assist the surgeon in properly locating and excising the SLN with minimal morbidity, limiting unnecessary dissections, as well as reducing false negative results.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)751-755
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Surgical Oncology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Jun 2011


  • head and neck
  • lymphatics
  • melanoma
  • sentinel lymph node

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Oncology


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