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Histopathological characteristics of small diameter melanocytic naevi
  1. M Braun-Falco1,
  2. R Hein1,
  3. J Ring1,
  4. N S McNutt2
  1. 1Department of Dermatology and Allergology, Technical University Munich, 80802 Munich, Germany
  2. 2Division of Dermatopathology, Department of Pathology, The New York Presbyterian Hospital, Cornell University Weill Medical College, New York, NY 10016, USA
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr M Braun-Falco, Klinik und Poliklinik für Dermatologie und Allergologie am Biederstein, Technische Universität München, Biedersteinerstr. 29, 80802 München, Germany;


Background/Aims: The clinical definition of an atypical naevus (“dysplastic naevus” or “naevus with architectural disorder and cytological atypia of melanocytes”) stresses size larger than 5 mm in diameter as a major diagnostic criterion. Because malignant melanomas and their precursors may arise in smaller lesions, a histological study of melanocytic lesions smaller than 4 mm in diameter was conducted to evaluate their histological appearance.

Methods: Two hundred and sixty one naevi smaller than 4 mm in diameter were collected and characterised by histological examination into benign naevi without architectural disorder and naevi with architectural disorder and mild, moderate, and severe atypical melanocytes according to criteria used on larger lesions.

Results: Small melanocytic naevi covered the same complex histological spectrum from benign naevi to severely atypical naevi when compared with larger lesions. A high proportion of small naevi (72%) exhibited features diagnostic for naevi with architectural disorder and cytological atypia.

Conclusion: There is a discrepancy between histological and clinically defined atypical naevi. The same generally accepted criteria for the histological diagnosis of atypical naevi should be used for small melanocytic naevi in addition to large ones. Thus, small naevi exhibiting atypical features on histological examination should be categorised as atypical naevi, regardless of their small diameter.

  • atypical naevi
  • dysplastic naevi
  • naevi with architectural disorder
  • grading of nuclear atypia

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