Temporal change in diagnostic criteria as a cause of the increase of malignant melanoma over time is unlikely

E. P. Van der Esch, C. S. Muir, J. Nectoux, G. Macfarlane, P. Maisonneuve, H. Bharucha, J. Briggs, R. A. Cooke, A. G. Dempster, W. B. Essex, P. A. Hofer, A. F. Hood, P. Ironside, T. E. Larsen, J. H. Little, R. Philipps, R. S. Pfau, M. Prade, K. M. Pozharisski

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To assess whether the increase in malignant melanoma incidence could be due, at least in part, to changes in histological criteria of malignancy, pathologists in Australia, France, Italy, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States and the USSR reviewed diagnoses of 50 consecutive pigmented naevi (40 junctional and compound; 10 intradermal) and 20 consecutive malignant melanomas made in each participating centre around 1930, around 1955 and around 1980. Collaborating pathologists re-read the material, 2,665 cases in all, either from the original slide (82%) or from a recut block (17%), gave their diagnosis and indicated whether the lesion was benign (B), dubious benign (DB), dubious malignant (DM) or malignant (M). As the distribution of review diagnoses was much the same whether the original slide or one made from a recut block was read, the material was pooled. Overall, 2.8% of cases originally reported as B/DB were reviewed as DM/M, while 4.4% of the DM/M diagnoses were held to be B/DB. The shifts between categories were greatest around 1955 and least around 1980, suggesting increasing uniformity of interpretation. All available blocks were recut and sections sent to IARC for review: 1.7% (22) of 1293 B/DB diagnoses were considered to be DM/M and 3.3% (18) of 551 DM/M diagnoses were considered to have been B/DB. The consistently low frequency of shift in diagnostic category, whether the material was reviewed in the collaborating laboratories or by one pathologist at IARC, in a study designed to give maximum attention to those lesions - the junctional and compound naevi - in which a change in opinion as to malignancy would be most likely to arise, suggests that pathologists, irrespective of geographical location, are using common criteria. These findings argue against changes in histological interpretation as being responsible for more than a small portion of the continuous increase of some 3% to 8% per annum observed in malignant melanoma incidence. Other explanations, such as an increase in the frequency or potential for malignant transformation of precursor lesions, must be sought. The anatomical distribution of the malignant melanomas examined followed the usual site pattern by sex, and their thickness was observed to decrease over the period of the study in most centres.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)483-490
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Cancer
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1991

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cancer Research
  • Oncology


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