Study of patients with melanoma finds most have few moles

Gellar. A. C. et al. JAMA Dermatology. Published online March 02, 2016

Image shows a scanning electron micrograph of a skin cancer cell derived from a cell culture grown from a human melanoma cell line.

Importance: Nevi are among the strongest risk factors for melanoma. However, little is known about the association of many total nevi (TN) or atypical nevi (AN) with tumor thickness.

Objectives: To examine the association between age and the number of TN and AN and to explore whether there was a relationship between TN or AN and tumor thickness, controlling for multiple variables.

Design, Setting, and Participants: Survey of patients with melanoma at 2 academic sites and an affiliated Veteran Affairs medical center. Participants included 566 patients surveyed within 3 months of diagnosis. Patients were surveyed in the melanoma clinics from May 17, 2006, through March 31, 2009, within 3 months of diagnostic biopsy. The dates of the analysis were April 1, 2015, to August 1, 2015.

Main Outcomes and Measures: Counts of TN and AN were performed at the first visit after diagnosis and were categorized as 0 to 20, 20 to 50, or more than 50 for TN and as 0, 1 to 5, or more than 5 for AN. Tumor thickness was categorized as 2.00 mm or less or as 2.01 mm or greater. All analyses were stratified by patient age (<60 or ≥60 years). Logistic regression was used to test associations, controlling for age, sex, anatomic location of melanoma, institution, histologic subtype, marital status, performance of skin self-examination, number of health care visits in the past year, mode of melanoma discovery, and receipt of skin examination by a physician.

Results: The study population included 566 patients. Their mean (SD) age was 56.7 (15.9) years, and 39.0% (n = 221) were female. Of 566 patients, the number of TN was classified as 0 to 20 (66.4% [n = 376]), 20 to 50 (20.5% [n = 116]), or more than 50 (13.1% [n = 74]). Atypical nevus counts were 0 (73.3% [n = 415]), 1 to 5 (14.5% [n = 82]), or more than 5 (12.2% [n = 69]). For those younger than 60 years, the presence of more than 50 TN was associated with a sharply reduced risk of thick melanoma (odds ratio, 0.32; 95% CI, 0.12-0.81), and the presence of more than 5 AN compared with no AN was associated with thicker melanoma (odds ratio, 2.43; 95% CI, 1.02-5.75).

Conclusions and Relevance:  Most patients with melanoma had few nevi and no AN. In younger patients (<60 years), thick melanomas were commonly found in those with fewer TN but more AN, suggesting that physicians and patients should not rely on the total nevus count as a sole reason to perform skin examinations or to determine a patient’s at-risk status. Younger patients should be educated on the increased risk of thicker melanomas that is associated with having more AN.

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