Consumption of epidermis: a diagnostic criterion for the differential diagnosis of melanoma and Spitz nevus
The distinction between melanoma and its most important simulant, Spitz nevus, is usually made on microscopically. We point out "consumption of the epidermis" (COE) as an additional diagnostic criterion. We defined COE as thinning of the epidermis with attenuation of the basal and suprabasal layers and loss of rete ridges in areas of direct contact with neoplastic melanocytes. We analyzed 102 unequivocal melanomas and 125 unequivocal Spitz nevi for the presence of COE. COE had not been used in arriving at the diagnosis of these cases because we were unaware of the criterion at the time that the cases were first evaluated. COE was found in 88 of 102 (86%) of melanomas but only 12 of 125 (9.6%) of Spitz nevi (P < 0.001). We then looked for COE in an independent set of 61 ambiguous melanocytic lesions with overlapping histopathologic features that could not be classified unequivocally as Spitz nevus or melanoma. The cases were analyzed by comparative genomic hybridization (CGH) for aberration patterns suggesting a benign or a malignant process, based on previous studies. COE was found in only 6 of 42 (14%) of the ambiguous cases in which CGH suggested a benign process and 14 of 19 (74%) of the ambiguous cases in which CGH suggested melanoma (P < 0.001). Our data suggest that COE is a useful criterion in the evaluation of melanocytic neoplasms. Because COE was frequently found at the edges of ulcers in the majority of ulcerated melanomas, the thinning of the epidermis in COE may represent an early phase of ulceration. This may prove to be important in distinguishing ulceration due to an effect of the tumor from ulceration due to trauma, which would be expected not to have the same prognostic import. Future studies are required to analyze the prognostic value of COE itself.
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