Achieving consensus for the histopathologic diagnosis of melanocytic lesions: use of the modified Delphi method

Patricia A. Carney, Lisa M. Reisch, Michael W. Piepkorn, Raymond L. Barnhill, David E. Elder, Stevan Knezevich, Berta M. Geller, Gary Longton, Joann G. Elmore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


METHODS: A total of 240 melanocytic lesions were assessed independently by three experienced dermatopathologists with their diagnoses mapped into one of five Melanocytic Pathology Assessment Tool and Hierarchy for Diagnosis (MPATH-DX) categories: (I) nevus/mild atypia, (II) moderate atypia, (III) severe atypia/melanoma in situ, (IV) T1a invasive melanoma and (V) ≥ T1b invasive melanoma. The dermatopathologists then discussed the cases, using a modified Delphi method to facilitated consensus building for cases with discordant diagnoses.

RESULTS: For most cases, a majority of interpretations (two or three of three) agreed with the consensus diagnosis in 95% of Category I, 64% of Category II, 84% of Category III, 88% for Category IV and 100% of Category V cases. Disagreements were typically due to diagnostic threshold differences (64.5%), differing contents on slides even though the slides were sequential cuts (18.5%), and missed findings (15.3%). Disagreements were resolved via discussion of histopathologic features and their significance while reviewing the slides using a multi-headed microscope, considering treatment recommendations, citing existing literature, reviewing additional slides for a case, and choosing a provisional/borderline diagnosis to capture diverse opinions. All experienced pathologists participating in this study reported that the process of coming to consensus was challenging for borderline cases and may have represented compromise rather than consensus. They also reported the process changed their approaches to diagnosing complex melanocytic lesions.

CONCLUSIONS: The most frequent reason for disagreement of experienced dermatopathologists was differences in diagnostic thresholds related to observer viewpoints. A range of approaches was needed to come to consensus, and this may guide pathology groups who do not currently hold consensus conferences.

OBJECTIVE: To understand the sophisticated nature of coming to consensus when diagnosing complex melanocytic lesions among a panel of experienced dermatopathologists.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)830-837
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of cutaneous pathology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016


  • dermatopathology
  • interpretive accuracy
  • melanocytic lesions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pathology and Forensic Medicine
  • Histology
  • Dermatology


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