The ABC’s. It’s one of the first things we learn as kids right? We even have a catchy little song to help make the alphabet easier to remember. It seems pretty simple….until it isn’t. In the field of dermatology the alphabet is used as an acronym for the clinical detection criteria of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. The conventional ABCDE’s of melanoma are Asymmetry, Border, Color variegation, Diameter >6mm, and Evolution [any change in morphology or symptoms of the lesion]. A recent study conducted through the University of California, San Francisco, has demonstrated that we need to learn some new ABCD’s. This retrospective study evaluated patients diagnosed before the age of 20, during the time period from 1984-2009. 60 pediatric patients with melanoma as well as 10 pediatric patients with ambiguous melanocytic tumors treated as melanoma (i.e. lesions had atypical clinical presentations and ambiguous microscopic features). The study patients were divided into group A for ages 0-10 and group B for ages 11-19. The conventional clinical ABCDE detection criteria was absent in sixty percent of group A patients and 40 percent of group B patients. What emerged from the study was a new set of ABCD’s common to diagnosis including Amelanosis (lack of pigment), Bleeding and “bumps”, uniform Color, variable Diameter and De novo development. Not only were the clinical features different from the conventional, but it was also found that current microscopic subtypes of melanoma could not be applied to 44 percent of cases.
What does this all mean? It means that more research will need to be done to expand upon this research to help determine the most appropriate clinical and microscopic detection criteria for melanoma as it relates to the pediatric population. The good news, is that it means that the field of dermatology continues to evolve and change as new information reaches the forefront to best diagnose and manage our patients. It also means that as parents and caregivers of children we need to have a heightened awareness of bleeding lesions, bumps and lumps both colored and colorless that have newly developed or recently changed and have them evaluated. It means we need to learn our ABCD‘s.