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Pathology. 2004 Oct;36(5):428-34.

The approach to the patient with a difficult melanocytic lesion.

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Division of Anatomic Pathology, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA 19130, USA.


Although most histological diagnoses are made with relative ease and with great specificity and reproducibility, there is a subset of cases in which a specific and reproducible diagnosis is difficult or even impossible to render. In the melanocytic system, these cases can be divided into two broad categories. The first category, 'superficial atypical melanocytic proliferations of uncertain significance' (SAMPUS), includes predominantly junctional melanocytic proliferations, and melanocytic proliferations that are confined to the epidermis and papillary dermis, without evidence of tumorigenic proliferation or mitotic activity there. The prognosis for cure of these lesions is excellent if they are completely excised. Such lesions may include, for example, dysplastic naevi, Spitz naevi or pigmented spindle cell naevi with a few atypical melanocytes above the dermal-epidermal junction, or with greater than average cytological atypia, or with mitoses, where the differential diagnosis of melanoma in situ is difficult or impossible to rule out. The other category, 'melanocytic tumours of uncertain malignant potential' (MELTUMP), is comprised of melanocytic proliferations that form tumours in the dermis, and are therefore potentially capable of metastasis. Examples of such lesions may include atypical Spitz naevi, deep penetrating naevi, possible naevoid melanomas, or cellular blue naevi, where because of increased mitotic activity or cytologic atypia, a diagnosis of invasive or tumorigenic melanoma cannot be ruled out. In managing such lesions, we follow two main principles. The first is to manage each lesion with therapy designed to be adequate for management of the most significant consideration in the differential diagnosis. The second principle is to make clinicians and patients specifically aware of the diagnostic difficulty in their lesion, so that management can be undertaken on a true informed consent basis.

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