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J Am Acad Dermatol. 1998 Dec;39(6):923-32.

Cutaneous melanoma risk and phenotypic changes in large congenital nevi: a follow-up study of 46 patients.

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Department of Dermatology, University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Philadelphia, USA.



Large congenital melanocytic nevi may undergo malignant transformation. Few prospective studies have evaluated the incidence of melanoma in large congenital nevi or have described how their phenotypic characteristics change over time.


We attempted to ascertain the incidence of cutaneous melanoma in a cohort of patients with large congenital nevi and to evaluate the frequency and nature of several morphologic changes over time.


Forty-six patients with large congenital nevi were prospectively followed up in our Pigmented Lesion Group. Large congenital nevi were defined as those occurring at birth and comprising 5% body surface area or greater in infants, children, and preadolescents and more than 20 cm in adolescents and adults. Information was obtained on location, satellitosis, changes in color and nodularity, and incidence of melanoma. The most atypical histologic findings from those who underwent biopsy were also noted. Standardized morbidity ratios (SMR) and 5-year cumulative risk were calculated and presented with corresponding 95% confidence intervals (CI).


Twenty-four male and 22 female patients (age range, 7 days to 36.7 years; mean, 8.4 years) with large congenital nevi were followed up prospectively for a total of 335 person-years (range, 0.17 to 17.5 person-years; mean, 7.3 person-years). Two patients (4.3%) experienced 3 cutaneous melanomas that originated in their primary congenital nevi. We found one case of neurocutaneous melanosis. No satellite, extremity, or extracutaneous melanomas were detected. The majority of nevi in our cohort were located on the posterior trunk, were accompanied by multiple satellite congenital nevi, and became lighter over time. In the 27 patients who underwent biopsies, the most atypical histologic findings included melanoma, atypical melanocytic dysplasia, neurocristic dysplasia, atypical neural crest hamartomas, atypical spindle cell tumors, and congenital nevi with dysplasia. The SMR comparing observed-to-expected melanoma incidence was 148 (95% CI 18, 535; P = .0002) indicating a substantially increased risk of melanoma in patients with large congenital nevi. The cumulative 5-year risk of cutaneous melanoma was 5.7% (95% CI 0%, 13.5%).


Our findings are consistent with the previously observed increased risk for the occurrence of cutaneous melanoma in patients with large congenital nevi. Although the number of patients with melanoma in this study is small, our observations and those of previous studies suggest that location and age correlates with melanoma risk. The majority of large congenital nevi are located on the trunk and may undergo several clinical changes as these patients age. Additional prospective studies are needed to gain more insight into the natural history and optimal management of large congenital nevi.

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