Mast cell participation in immune responses, tumor progression, and vascularization has been studied extensively in vitro. In situ investigation of mast cells in routinely processed tissues is hampered by difficulty in reliable detection of mast cells. We studied the tissue density of mast cells using a morphometric point-counting technique in 1 μm-thick, Giemsa-stained, tissue sections from epon-embedded samples of skin biopsies. This technique has been demonstrated to be an accurate and reproducible method for determining mast cell density.

Mast cell density in 15 cases of invasive melanoma was compared to that of 9 cases of benign melanocytic nevi and 4 cases of melanoma in situ. Mast cell density was greatest in invasive melanoma (mean density = 0.61 vol.%). The mean density of mast cells in nevi and in situ melanoma was 0.33 and 0.5 respectively. Six of 15 cases of melanoma had mast cell densities > 0.6, whereas mast cell density did not exceed 0.6 in any cases of melanoma in situ or benign melanocytic nevi (p < 0.02). Our findings confirm an increase in mast cell tissue density in some cases of invasive melanoma when compared to mast cell density in benign nevi and in situ melanoma.