Demographics, prognosis, and therapy in 702 patients with brain metastases from malignant melanoma

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  • 1 Division of Neurosurgery, Department of Surgery, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina
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Brain metastases are a common and devastating complication in patients with malignant melanoma. Therapeutic options for these patients are limited, and the prognosis is usually poor.

Object. A retrospective review of 6953 patients with melanoma treated at a single institution was undertaken to identify demographic factors associated with the development of clinically significant brain metastases in 702 of these patients and to determine the factors influencing the prognosis of this population to permit more informed recommendations regarding surgical therapy.

Methods. Factors found to be associated with the development of brain metastases included male gender, primary lesions located on mucosal surfaces or on the skin of the trunk or head and neck, thick or ulcerated primary lesions, and histological findings of acral lentiginous or nodular lesions. The overall median survival time of all patients with brain metastases was 113.2 days, and these metastases contributed to the death of 94.5% of the patients in this group. Patients with primary lesions located in the head or neck region had a significantly shorter survival time relative to other patients with brain metastases, whereas patients with a single brain metastasis, patients without lung or multiple other visceral metastases, and patients whose initial presentation with melanoma included a brain metastasis had a significantly better prognosis. The small group of patients who survived for more than 3 years was characterized by the presence of a surgically treated, single brain metastasis in the absence of other visceral metastatic disease.

Conclusions. Although most patients with brain metastases resulting from melanoma have a dismal prognosis, some who are likely to survive for longer periods can be identified. In these patients surgical resection can significantly prolong meaningful survival. The decision to recommend surgery should be based primarily on the resectability of the brain metastases and on the status and number of other organs with metastatic lesions.

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Contributor Notes

Address reprint requests to: John H. Sampson, M.D., Ph.D., Box 3807, Division of Neurosurgery, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina 27710.
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