Malignant melanoma of the head and neck is a potentially lethal disease and considered rare among juveniles. Treatment patterns have historically been dictated by experience with adults, however a paucity of data is available to determine the natural history and treatment guidelines for juveniles and children with malignant melanoma. Therefore a retrospective computer-aided analysis of patients less than 20 years of age having malignant melanoma were obtained from the records of 4,843 patients with malignant melanoma recorded from 1972 through 1986. Eighty-seven patients were identified from this group with 17 patients having primary malignant melanomas confined to the head and neck.
Parameters evaluated were age at diagnosis, sex, type of melanoma, Clark Level, Breslow depth of invasion, pathologic classification, site of primary, nodal status at diagnosis, surgical treatment, recurrence rate and site of recurrence, and follow-up status.
Two of 17 patients had stage II disease and were treated with wide local excision and therapeutic radical neck dissection. Fifteen of 17 patients initially presented with stage I disease were treated with wide local excision. Two of these patients underwent elective radical neck dissection both of which proved to have positive occult nodal disease. Both are alive without evidence of disease 2½ to 7 years later. Of the 13 patients who were initially treated with only wide local excision, nine patients developed local (3), regional (3), or systemic (3) disease within 3 months to 9 years from the date of diagnosis. Seven of the nine died of their disease 5 months to 20 years later.
When juvenile patients with melanomas of the head and neck are compared to a comparable age group of patients with melanomas at other primary body sites, the head and neck group had a significantly higher frequency of death. Compared to the adult head and neck population, juvenile patients had identical actuarial survival time, but shorter disease-free intervals, even though the adult population had a higher percent of poor prognostic indicies (presence of ulceration and thickness of lesions). Failure to control local and regional disease coupled with the overall poor survival rate, indicates that malignant melanoma occurs in the young as a biologically active tumor and suggests an aggressive approach for better control of local and regional disease and, hopefully, survival.