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Update on the melanoma staging system: The importance of sentinel node staging and primary tumor mitotic rate


  • The members of the AJCC Melanoma Committee that developed the new staging guidelines: Charles M. Balch, MD (Chair), Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, Baltimore, MD; Jeffrey E. Gershenwald, MD (Vice-chair), The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX; Seng-Jaw Soong, MD (Vice-chair), University of Alabama at Birmingham; Michael B. Atkins, MD, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, MA, Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group; David R. Byrd, MD, University of Washington, Seattle, WA; Antonio C. Buzaid, MD, Hospital Sirio-Libanes, San Paulo, Brazil; Natale Cascinelli, MD, Istituto Nazionale Tumori, WHO Melanoma Program, San Pio X Hospital, Milan, Italy; Alistair J. Cochran, MD, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Los Angeles, CA; Daniel G. Coit, MD, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY; Alexander M. M. Eggermont, MD, Erasmus University MC—Director, Daniel den Hoed Cancer Center, Rotterdam, The Netherlands; UICC representative David P. Frishberg, MD, Cedars Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, CA (CAP representative); Keith T. Flaherty, MD, Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, Boston, MA; Phyllis A. Gimotty, PHD, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA; Allan C. Halpern, MD, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY; Alan N. Houghton, Jr., MD, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, NY; Marcella M. Johnson, The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX; John M. Kirkwood, MD, University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh, PA, and Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group; Kelly M. McMasters, MD, PhD, University of Louisville Medical Center, Louisville, KY, Sunbelt Melanoma Trial Group; Martin F. Mihm, Jr., Dana Farber Brigham and Women's Cancer Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA; Donald L. Morton, MD, John Wayne Cancer Institute at Saint John's Health Center, Santa Monica, CA; Merrick I. Ross, MD, The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX; Arthur J. Sober, MD, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston MA; Vernon K. Sondak, MD, H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and University of South Florida College of Medicine, Tampa, FL; Kristen Stephens, Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Buffalo, NY; John F. Thompson, MD, Melanoma Institute Australia and the University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia.


The 7th Edition of the AJCC Staging Manual includes a detailed summary of melanoma staging and prognosis. The revisions are summarized in this article, along with details on two key aspects of melanoma staging: the incorporation of mitotic rate of the primary melanoma and the key role of the sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNB) in determining accurate staging for clinically occult nodal metastases. Primary tumor mitotic rate was introduced as a major criterion for melanoma staging and prognosis that replaces the Clark's level of invasion, and is now proven to be an important independent adverse predictor of survival. Analysis of the AJCC melanoma staging database demonstrated a significant inverse correlation between primary tumor mitotic rate (histologically defined as mitoses/mm2) and survival. The use of SLNB reliably identifies melanoma patients with nodal micrometastases, enabling clinicians to identify patients with occult nodal metastases that would otherwise take months or years to become clinically palpable The number of nodal metastases was the most significant independent predictor of survival among all patients with stage III disease, including among patients with nodal micrometastases, and continues to be a primary criterion for defining Stage III melanoma. A clinical scoring system model and multivariate predictive tool under the auspices of the AJCC has led to a first-generation web-based predictive tool ( J. Surg. Oncol. 2011; 104:379–385. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.