Assessment of Second-Opinion Strategies for Diagnoses of Cutaneous Melanocytic Lesions

JAMA Netw Open. 2019 Oct 2;2(10):e1912597. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2019.12597.


Importance: Histopathologic criteria have limited diagnostic reliability for a range of cutaneous melanocytic lesions.

Objective: To evaluate the association of second-opinion strategies by general pathologists and dermatopathologists with the overall reliability of diagnosis of difficult melanocytic lesions.

Design, setting, and participants: This diagnostic study used samples from the Melanoma Pathology Study, which comprises 240 melanocytic lesion samples selected from a dermatopathology laboratory in Bellevue, Washington, and represents the full spectrum of lesions from common nevi to invasive melanoma. Five sets of 48 samples were evaluated independently by 187 US pathologists from July 15, 2013, through May 23, 2016. Data analysis was performed from April 2016 through November 2017.

Main outcomes and measures: Accuracy of diagnosis, defined as concordance with an expert consensus diagnosis of 3 experienced pathologists, was assessed after applying 10 different second-opinion strategies.

Results: Among the 187 US pathologists examining the 24 lesion samples, 113 were general pathologists (65 men [57.5%]; mean age at survey, 53.7 years [range, 33.0-79.0 years]) and 74 were dermatopathologists (49 men [66.2%]; mean age at survey, 46.4 years [range, 33.0-77.0 years]). Among the 8976 initial case interpretations, physicians desired second opinions for 3899 (43.4%), most often for interpretation of severely dysplastic nevi. The overall misclassification rate was highest when interpretations did not include second opinions and initial reviewers were all general pathologists lacking subspecialty training (52.8%; 95% CI, 51.3%-54.3%). When considering different second opinion strategies, the misclassification of melanocytic lesions was lowest when the first, second, and third consulting reviewers were subspecialty-trained dermatopathologists and when all lesions were subject to second opinions (36.7%; 95% CI, 33.1%-40.7%). When the second opinion strategies were compared with single interpretations without second opinions, the reductions in misclassification rates for some of the strategies were statistically significant, but none of the strategies eliminated diagnostic misclassification. Melanocytic lesions in the middle of the diagnostic spectrum had the highest misclassification rates (eg, moderately or severely dysplastic nevus, Spitz nevus, melanoma in situ, and pathologic stage [p]T1a invasive melanoma). Variability of in situ and thin invasive melanoma was relatively intractable to all examined strategies.

Conclusions and relevance: The results of this study suggest that second opinions rendered by dermatopathologists improve reliability of melanocytic lesion diagnosis. However, discordance among pathologists remained high.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Clinical Competence
  • Dermatologists
  • Diagnostic Errors / prevention & control
  • Diagnostic Errors / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Melanoma / pathology*
  • Melanoma, Cutaneous Malignant
  • Middle Aged
  • Pathologists / standards
  • Pathologists / statistics & numerical data*
  • Referral and Consultation*
  • Skin Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Washington