The melanomas: a synthesis of epidemiological, clinical, histopathological, genetic, and biological aspects, supporting distinct subtypes, causal pathways, and cells of origin


D. C. Whiteman, e-mail: and B. C. Bastian, e-mail:


Converging lines of evidence from varied scientific disciplines suggest that cutaneous melanomas comprise biologically distinct subtypes that arise through multiple causal pathways. Understanding the respective relationships of each subtype with etiologic factors such as UV radiation and constitutional factors is the first necessary step toward developing refined prevention strategies for the specific forms of melanoma. Furthermore, classifying this disease precisely into biologically distinct subtypes is the key to developing mechanism-based treatments, as highlighted by recent discoveries. In this review, we outline the historical developments that underpin our understanding of melanoma heterogeneity, and we do this from the perspectives of clinical presentation, histopathology, epidemiology, molecular genetics, and developmental biology. We integrate the evidence from these separate trajectories to catalog the emerging major categories of melanomas and conclude with important unanswered questions relating to the development of melanoma and its cells of origin.