The utilization of spitz-related nomenclature in the histological interpretation of cutaneous melanocytic lesions by practicing pathologists: results from the M-Path study

J Cutan Pathol. 2017 Jan;44(1):5-14. doi: 10.1111/cup.12826. Epub 2016 Oct 28.


Background: Spitz nevi, atypical Spitz tumors and spitzoid melanomas ('spitzoid lesions') represent controversial and poorly understood cutaneous melanocytic lesions that are difficult to diagnose histologically. It is unknown how these terms are used by pathologists.

Methods: We describe use of Spitz-related terminology using data from the Melanoma Pathology (M-Path) study database comprising pathologists' interpretations of biopsy slides, a nation-wide study evaluating practicing US pathologists' (N = 187) diagnoses of melanocytic lesions (8976 independent diagnostic assessments on 240 total test cases, with 1 slide per case).

Results: Most pathologists (90%) used the Spitz-related terminology. However, significant variation exists in which specific lesions were diagnosed as spitzoid and in the corresponding treatment recommendations. Recommendations ranged from 'no further treatment' to 'wide excision of 10 mm or greater' with no category capturing more than 50% of responses. For spitzoid melanoma diagnoses, 90% of pathologists recommended excision with ≥10 mm margin. Pathologists report less confidence in diagnosing these lesions compared with other melanocytic proliferations and are more likely to request second opinions and additional clinical information (all p < 0.05).

Conclusions: Spitzoid lesions are often not classified in any standardized way, evoke uncertainty in diagnosis by pathologists, and elicit variability in treatment recommendations.

Keywords: Spitz; dermatopathology; melanocytic nevus; melanoma; terminology.

MeSH terms

  • Dermatology / standards*
  • Humans
  • Melanoma / classification*
  • Melanoma / diagnosis
  • Nevus, Epithelioid and Spindle Cell / classification*
  • Nevus, Epithelioid and Spindle Cell / diagnosis
  • Pathologists / standards*
  • Pathology, Clinical / standards*
  • Skin Neoplasms / classification*
  • Skin Neoplasms / diagnosis
  • Terminology as Topic