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J Invest Dermatol. 2008 Aug;128(8):2024-30. doi: 10.1038/jid.2008.41. Epub 2008 Mar 6.

Distribution and significance of occult intraepidermal tumor cells surrounding primary melanoma.

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  • 1UCSF School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA.


Primary melanoma can recur at the excision site if not excised with a safety margin of surrounding uninvolved skin. To characterize the nature of residual melanoma in the skin surrounding primary tumors targeted by safety margins, we used array comparative genomic hybridization and fluorescent in situ hybridization to detect and spatially map aberrations in the skin adjacent to acral melanomas. Melanocytic cells with genetic amplifications in histopathologically normal skin (field cells) were detected exclusively in the epidermis in 84% of 19 cases, with a mean extension of 6.1 mm (in situ melanomas) and 4.5 mm (invasive melanomas) beyond the histopathological margin. Genetic profiling of these field cells indicated that they represent an early phase of disease preceding melanoma in situ. The extent of field cells did not correlate with tumor depth or diameter, indicating that tumor depth is not suited to predict the extent of field cells. These results demonstrate that, on acral sites, melanoma field cells extend significantly into seemingly normal skin. These field cells provide a plausible explanation for the tendency of certain melanoma types to recur locally despite apparently having undergone complete excision.

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