Pigment synthesizing melanoma (so-called animal type melanoma): a clinicopathological study of 14 cases of a poorly known distinctive variant of melanoma


Dr E Calonje, St John's Institute of Dermatology, St Thomas Hospital, London SE1 7EH, UK. e-mail: jaime.calonje@kcl.ac.uk


Aims : Pigment synthesizing melanoma (so-called animal type melanoma) (PSM) is a rare histopathological variant of melanoma so termed because of prominent melanin production and its similarity to a variant of melanoma seen in grey horses. The aim of this study was to report the clinicopathological characteristics of 14 cases of animal type melanoma.

Methods and results : Six patients were female and eight were male with ages ranging from 5 to 52 years (mean 31 years, median 39 years). The head and neck represented the most common site. The clinical diagnosis was of melanoma in seven cases, blue naevus in three cases, benign naevus in three cases and a pigmented basal cell carcinoma in one case. The histological diagnosis of PSM was predicated on the basis of an asymmetrical, predominantly intradermal tumour formed of deeply pigmented, round or short, spindle-shaped dendritic melanocytes with some degree of hyperchromatism and a single nucleolus. Cytological atypia was always present but was not pronounced. A prominent population of macrophages was invariably present. Four tumours were compound and 10 tumours were predominantly intradermal. The mitotic count was usually low, ranging from 1 to 5 per 10 high-power fields (mean 2). Perineural and lymphovascular invasion was not seen. The Breslow thickness ranged from 1.1 to 7.5 mm (mean 3.3 mm). Follow-up was available in 13 patients. The median follow-up period was 5 years. Six patients had no recurrence, three had local recurrence in the form of satellite nodules adjacent to the scar, four had spread to the regional lymph nodes and one patient had distant metastases to the liver. There were no deaths.

Conclusions : This study demonstrates that PSM is a distinctive, possible low-grade variant of melanoma usually lacking the histological features predictive of aggressive behaviour seen in ordinary melanoma. It should be managed in the same way as other melanomas with wide local excision.