Pigmented basal cell carcinoma: increased melanin or increased melanocytes?

J Cutan Pathol. 2016 Dec;43(12):1139-1142. doi: 10.1111/cup.12819. Epub 2016 Oct 4.


Background: Studies on the precise cause of increased melanization in pigmented basal cell carcinomas (BCC) are limited. We aimed to determine whether the cause of melanization is from increased number of melanocytes or increased melanin pigment, and if there is a difference in the number of melanocytes on different sun-exposed locations.

Methods: A retrospective review of 45 skin biopsies from January 2011 to February 2011 was performed; 30 were diagnosed as pigmented BCC and 15 as non-pigmented BCC. Immunohistochemistry for MART-1 (melanoma-associated antigen recognized by T-cell 1)/Melan-A (clone M2-7610 + M2-9E3; Leica Microsystems Inc. Buffalo Grove, IL, USA) from Biocare Medical (Concord, CA, USA) was performed on all biopsies. Associations between histopathologic features, number of melanocytes, location, and specific diagnoses were analyzed by Mann-Whitney U test.

Results: The mean melanocyte count per high powered field in pigmented BCCs from sun-exposed skin was 101.9 and from intermittently sun-exposed skin was 122.5, as compared to the controls (nodular non-pigmented BCC) of 27.4 (p = 0.002) and 34.9 (p = 0.002), respectively.

Conclusions: Pigmented BCCs have a higher mean melanocyte count as compared to non-pigmented BCCs irrespective of location. Therefore, the pigment is not only due to increased melanin, but also due to increased melanocytes.

Keywords: MART-1/Melan-A; collision tumor; melanin; melanocytes; pigmented basal cell carcinoma.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis
  • Carcinoma, Basal Cell / pathology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • MART-1 Antigen / analysis
  • Male
  • Melanins / metabolism*
  • Melanocytes / pathology*
  • Middle Aged
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Skin Neoplasms / pathology*


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • MART-1 Antigen
  • MLANA protein, human
  • Melanins