Research Article| Volume 65, ISSUE 3, P351-355, March 2012

Setting up an effective and efficient sentinel node biopsy service for malignant melanoma within the NHS

Published:December 19, 2011DOI:


      Sentinel lymph node biopsy provides prognostic information for melanoma patients, and the Department of Health states that it should be available across the country by 2012. We review the setting up of a melanoma sentinel lymph node biopsy service with specific consideration to resources, service implications and patient outcomes.
      In total, 164 patients underwent sentinel lymph node biopsy for melanoma from August 2008 until March 2010. The median time for sentinel lymph node excision was 26 min. The median total operative time, which includes melanoma excision and sentinel node biopsy was 65 min, compared with 22 min for excision of the melanoma performed during the previous 19 months. The complication rate was 8.5%, with only 1.2% requiring operative treatment.
      After the initial outlay for two gamma probes, it was possible to deliver a cost neutral service within the National Tariff. Despite a significant increase in demand for the service in the second half of the study period, and 106% increase in the number of regional lymphadenectomies, only 1 patient (0.6%) breached the ‘Going Further on Cancer Waits’ target.
      In conclusion, a sentinel lymph node biopsy service for malignant melanoma can be effectively delivered within the majority of UK plastic surgery departments.


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