BACKGROUND: The value of CT at the time of diagnosis for patients with cutaneous head and neck melanoma clinically asymptomatic for metastatic disease is unclear.
METHODS: A retrospective medical chart review was performed on 198 consecutive patients identified with primary T1b-T4b head and neck melanoma clinically asymptomatic for metastatic disease referred for sentinel lymph node biopsy procedures between 2004 and 2014.
RESULTS: Initial CTs identified clinically occult melanoma metastases in 8.1% and advanced second primary tumors in 3.5% of patients. CT findings were false-negative in 1% and false-positive in 6% of patients. Overall survival (OS) for patients with true-positive CT findings was lower than for the other patients (P < .001).
CONCLUSION: CT imaging when staging patients with head and neck melanoma seems to identify more metastases than has been reported for melanoma at other sites. Preoperative CTs decreased the number of sentinel lymph node biopsy (SLNBs), thus avoiding the stress and cost of this surgical procedure in 12% of patients.