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Arch Dermatol. 2006 Feb;142(2):175-82.

Role of skin biopsy to confirm suspected acute graft-vs-host disease: results of decision analysis.

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Department of Dermatology, New York University, New York, USA.



To estimate the value of skin biopsy in the evaluation of suspected acute cutaneous graft-vs-host disease (GVHD) after allogeneic stem cell transplantation.


Decision analysis using parameters specified by expert opinion for skin biopsy characteristics, prevalence of acute GVHD, and value of potential outcomes. One-, 2-, and 3-way sensitivity analyses were performed.


Major stem cell transplantation centers in the United States.


Hypothetical cohort of patients with suspected acute cutaneous GVHD after stem cell transplantation.


The following 3 interventions were compared: treat immediately for GVHD without performing a skin biopsy, perform a skin biopsy and treat immediately but stop treatment if skin biopsy specimen findings are inconsistent with GVHD, and perform a skin biopsy and await results of the skin biopsy specimen before treating.


Number of patients appropriately and inappropriately treated with each intervention, consistency of physician-reported behavior, individualized decision analyses, and preferred intervention based on the aggregate estimates of respondents.


The decision to treat immediately for GVHD without performing a skin biopsy yielded the best clinical outcome for the specified clinical setting and under the parameters specified by expert opinion. One-way sensitivity analyses showed that these conclusions are robust if the prevalence of acute cutaneous GVHD in stem cell recipients with rash is greater than 50%, if the sensitivity of skin biopsy specimen is less than 0.8, and the specificity of skin biopsy specimen is less than 0.9. Only 25% of physicians interviewed chose an intervention consistent with their estimates of prevalence, test characteristics, and outcome evaluations, indicating an opportunity to improve management of this important clinical condition.


This decision analysis modeling technique predicts that in patient populations in which the prevalence of GVHD is 30% or greater (typical for allogeneic stem cell transplantation), the best outcomes were obtained with treatment for GVHD and no skin biopsy. In populations with prevalence of GVHD of 30% or less, obtaining a skin biopsy specimen to guide treatment was predicted to provide the best patient outcomes.

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