Nodular melanoma (NM) may be biologically aggressive compared with the more common superficial spreading melanoma (SSM), with recent data suggesting underlying genetic differences between these 2 subtypes. To better define the clinical behavior of NMs, the authors compared their clinical and histopathologic features to those of SSMs at their institution, a tertiary referral center, over 3 decades.
A total of 1684 patients diagnosed with 1734 melanomas were prospectively enrolled. Of these, 1143 patients (69% SSM, 11% NM, 20% other) were diagnosed between 1972 and 1982; 541 patients (54% SSM, 23% NM, 23% other) were diagnosed between 2002 and the present. Differences between the features of NM and SSM within each time period as well as changes over time were analyzed.
The authors found that SSMs are now diagnosed as thinner lesions (P < .0001) with a low incidence of histologic ulceration (P < .0001), whereas there was no significant change in the median tumor thickness or ulceration status of NMs over time (P = .10, P = .30, respectively). The median age at diagnosis of NM, however, did significantly increase over time (51 years to 63 years, P < .01). The median duration of NMs was reported to be only 5 months compared with 9 months in SSM patients.
The authors' data suggest that improvements have been made in the early detection of SSM but not NM. Modifications of current screening practices, including increased surveillance of high-risk patients with an emphasis on the “E” for “evolution” criterion of the ABCDE acronym used for early detection of melanoma, are thus warranted. Cancer 2008. © 2008 American Cancer Society.