Atypical cellular blue nevi (cellular blue nevi with atypical features): Lack of consensus for diagnosis and distinction from cellular blue nevi and malignant melanoma ("malignant blue nevus")

Raymond L. Barnhill, Zsolt Argenyi, Marianne Berwick, Paul H. Duray, Lori Erickson, Joan Guitart, Marcello G. Horenstein, Lori Lowe, Jane Messina, Susan Paine, Michael W. Piepkorn, Victor Prieto, Michael S. Rabkin, Birgitta Schmidt, Angelica Selim, Chris R. Shea, Martin J. Trotter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations


The distinction of cellular blue nevi (CBN) with atypical features ["atypical" CBN (ACBN)] from conventional CBN and malignant melanomas related to or derived from CBN remains a difficult problem. Here, we report on the diagnosis of various cellular blue melanocytic neoplasms by 14 dermatopathologists who routinely examine melanocytic lesions. Three parameters were assessed: (1) for between rater analyses, we calculated interobserver agreement by the κ statistic (regardless of whether the diagnosis was correct). (2) For each individual lesion, we reported whether a majority agreement (>50%) was reached and, if so, whether the majority agreed with the gold standard diagnosis, derived from standardized histopathologic criteria for melanoma, definitive outcome such as metastatic event or death of disease, or disease-free follow-up for ≥4 years. (3) For the individual pathologists, we calculated sensitivity and specificity for each type of lesion. The study set included 26 melanocytic lesions: (1) 6 malignant melanomas developing in or with attributes of CBN; (2) 11 CBN with atypical features and indeterminate biologic potential (ACBN); (3) 8 conventional CBN; and (4) 1 common BN. The κ values for interrater agreement varied from 0.52 (95% confidence interval 0.45, 0.58) for melanoma to 0.02 (0.05, 0.08) for ACBN and 0.20 (0.13, 0.28) for CBN. The κ for all lesions was 0.25 (0.22, 0.28). The pathologists' sensitivities were 68.6% (61.0%, 76.1%) for melanoma, 33.1% (21.0%, 45.2%) for ACBN, and 44.6% (29.0%, 60.3%) for CBN. The specificities were 65.7% (55.8%, 75.6%) for melanoma, 84.7% (77.3%, 92.2%) for ACBN, and 89.9% (82.7%, 97.1%) for CBN. Overall, greater than 50% of the pathologists agreed and were correct in their diagnosis 38.5% (10 lesions) of the time. There was a majority agreement, but with an incorrect diagnosis, another 26.9% (7 lesions) of the time. Six of the 7 majority agreements with an incorrect diagnosis were for ACBN lesions. In summary, the results of our study indicate that there is substantial confusion and disagreement among experienced histopathologists about the definitions and biologic nature of cellular blue melanocytic neoplasms particularly those thought to have atypical features ("atypical" CBN).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)36-44
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Surgical Pathology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2008


  • Atypical cellular blue nevus
  • Cellular blue nevus
  • Malignant blue nevus
  • Melanoma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Surgery
  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine


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