The metabolic hormone leptin has been implicated in the pathogenesis of various malignancies and may contribute to the high rate of cancer in obese individuals. We reported that leptin and its receptor are expressed by melanoma tumors and cell lines, and that leptin stimulates proliferation of cultured melanoma cells. Here, we tested the hypothesis that leptin contributes to early melanoma progression by assessing its association with sentinel node positivity in cutaneous melanoma patients. The study enrolled 72 patients who were scheduled to undergo lymphatic mapping and sentinel node biopsy. Fasting blood was obtained before surgery, and serum leptin levels were measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) with a "raw" (assay value) and an "adjusted" value (raw value divided by body mass index). Leptin levels and other clinicopathologic parameters were compared between sentinel node positive and negative groups. Logistic regression models were used to predict sentinel node status using leptin and other relevant clinical parameters. The raw and adjusted leptin levels were significantly higher in the 15 patients with positive sentinel nodes. These findings could not be attributed to differences in body mass indices. Univariate models revealed raw leptin, adjusted leptin, Breslow thickness, and mitotic rate as significant predictors of sentinel node status. Leptin levels and Breslow thickness remained significant in multivariate models. Survival and follow-up analysis revealed more aggressive disease in diabetic patients. Elevated serum leptin levels predict sentinel node metastasis in melanoma. Validation of this finding in larger cohorts should enable better stratification of early stage melanoma patients.
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