Clinical Misdiagnosis of Cutaneous Malignant Tumors as Melanocytic Nevi or Seborrheic Keratosis: A Retrospective Analysis of a Chinese Population

Clin Cosmet Investig Dermatol. 2024 Feb 26:17:465-476. doi: 10.2147/CCID.S451288. eCollection 2024.


Purpose: The rising incidence and mortality associated with cutaneous malignant tumours highlight the importance of early diagnosis of these tumors. In clinical practice, these tumors are often misdiagnosed as benign skin lesions such as melanocytic nevi (MN) and seborrheic keratosis (SK) because of their similar morphologic features. The incidence and clinicopathological subtypes of cutaneous malignancies in East Asia populations significantly differ from those in fair-skinned groups. However, studies on misdiagnoses in Eastern countries are lacking. Therefore, this study focused on the clinical and pathological features of cutaneous malignant tumors misdiagnosed as MN or SK in a Chinese population.

Patients and methods: A total of 4592 samples clinically diagnosed as MN (n = 3503) or SK (n = 1089) from July 2014 to June 2022 were collected and evaluated retrospectively. The clinical and pathological data were analyzed to identify associated factors.

Results: Pathological assessments showed that 2.5% (86/3503) of the specimens clinically diagnosed as MN were malignancies, predominantly basal cell carcinoma (BCC, 84.9%, 73/86), followed by malignant melanoma (MM, 8.1%, 7/86) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC, 7.0%, 6/86). Similarly, 5.7% (62/1089) of the specimens clinically diagnosed as SK were malignant tumors, of which BCC (50.0%, 31/62) was the most common, followed by SCC (41.9%, 26/62) and MM (8.1%, 5/62). In both types of specimens, advanced age and facial lesions were risk factors for malignancy misdiagnosis. The malignancy rate, mean age, and proportion of SCC in the specimens clinically diagnosed as SK were higher than those in the specimens clinically diagnosed as MN. Dermoscopy significantly reduced the rate of misdiagnosis of these tumors as MN or SK.

Conclusion: In China, cutaneous malignant tumors misdiagnosed as MN or SK are not uncommon in clinical practice, and active introduction of noninvasive diagnostic techniques is essential to distinguish them.

Keywords: China; basal cell carcinoma; dermoscopy; malignant melanoma; skin benign neoplasms; squamous cell carcinoma.

Grants and funding

No funding or sponsorship was received for the conduct of this study or the preparation of this manuscript.