Increased diagnosis of thin superficial spreading melanomas: A 20-year study

J Am Acad Dermatol. 2012 Sep;67(3):387-94. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2011.10.026. Epub 2011 Dec 9.


Background: Diagnostic practice by dermatopathologists evaluating pigmented lesions may have evolved over time.

Objectives: We sought to investigate diagnostic drift among a group of dermatopathologists asked to re-evaluate cases initially diagnosed 20 years ago.

Methods: Twenty nine cases of dysplastic nevi with severe atypia and 11 cases of thin radial growth-phase melanoma from 1988 through 1990 were retrieved from the pathology files of the Massachusetts General Hospital. All dermatopathologists who had rendered an original diagnosis for any of the 40 slides and the current faculty in the Massachusetts General Hospital Dermatopathology Unit were invited to evaluate the slide set in 2008 through 2009.

Results: The mean number of melanoma diagnoses by the 9 study participants was 18, an increase from the original 11 melanoma diagnoses. A majority agreed with the original diagnosis of melanoma in all 11 cases. In contrast, a majority of current raters diagnosed melanoma in 4 of the 29 cases originally reported as dysplastic nevus with severe atypia. Interrater agreement over time was excellent (kappa 0.88) and fair (kappa 0.47) for cases originally diagnosed as melanoma and severely atypical dysplastic nevus, respectively.

Limitations: The unbalanced composition of the slide set, lack of access to clinical or demographic information, access to only one diagnostic slide, and imposed dichotomous categorization of tumors were limitations.

Conclusions: A selected cohort of dermatopathologists demonstrated a general trend toward the reclassification of prior nonmalignant diagnoses of severely atypical dysplastic nevi as malignant but did not tend to revise prior diagnoses of cutaneous melanoma as benign.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Dysplastic Nevus Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Dysplastic Nevus Syndrome / pathology
  • Humans
  • Melanoma / classification
  • Melanoma / epidemiology*
  • Melanoma / pathology*
  • Prevalence
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Skin Neoplasms / classification
  • Skin Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Skin Neoplasms / pathology*