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Pathology. 2013 Jun;45(4):402-7. doi: 10.1097/PAT.0b013e328360c064.

Immunohistochemical staining for p16 is a useful adjunctive test in the diagnosis of Bowen's disease.

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Department of Anatomical Pathology, PathWest, QEII Medical Centre, Nedlands, Western Australia, Australia.



The aim of this study was to document the pattern of immunohistochemical staining seen with p16 (INK4a) in actinic keratosis, Bowen's disease and seborrhoeic keratosis.


We gathered 20 examples each of actinic keratosis, Bowen's disease and seborrheic keratosis. The cases were stained for p16 using standard immunohistochemical techniques, and the staining patterns were categorised into one of five different patterns.


All cases of Bowen's disease as defined in our practice showed strong positive staining in all abnormal cells, and 95% of these cases showed a distinctive pattern of sparing in a layer of palisaded basal cells. None of the actinic keratoses or seborrheic keratoses, as defined by our morphological criteria, showed this distinctive pattern.


Bowen's disease, as we define the term, shows a distinctive, repeatable pattern of staining with p16, characterised by moderate to strong staining of all abnormal cells with sparing of a layer of basal cells. This pattern is not seen in actinic keratoses or in seborrheic keratoses. Thus immunohistochemistry for p16 is a useful adjunctive test in the differential diagnosis of these lesions.

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