Conference Coverage

Memphis clinic created to care for children and adolescents diagnosed with melanoma



Pediatric melanoma remains a rare diagnosis – representing just 1%-4% of all melanomas – and it continues to be poorly understood.

Dr. Teresa S. Wright

“There are many questions about its biology, histopathology, and clinical behavior,” Teresa S. Wright, MD, said during the virtual annual meeting of the Society for Pediatric Dermatology. “This diagnosis can be very difficult to establish. These lesions can be very unusual and require several different expert opinions to arrive at a diagnosis. Oftentimes, there may be an initial misdiagnosis or disagreement about diagnosis. This frequently results in a delay of treatment.”

Dr. Wright, chief of pediatric dermatology at LeBonheur Children’s Hospital and associate professor of dermatology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, Memphis, added that once a diagnosis of pediatric melanoma has been established, things don’t get any easier because of the lack of evidence-based guidelines for management. “There are really no standard recommendations regarding the workup, treatment, or follow-up for these patients,” she said.

Referral Clinic Launched

In 2016, under the direction of Alberto Pappo, MD, director of the solid tumor division at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Dr. Wright and several colleagues at St. Jude and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, launched a 2-day twice-yearly multidisciplinary Pediatric and Adolescent Melanoma Referral Clinic, in an effort to offer a second opinion and guidance for management of complex cases. “As a group, we address questions surrounding the diagnosis and pathology of the patient’s lesion, as well as therapy and follow-up for each individual patient,” Dr. Wright said.

Members of the clinic team include a pediatric oncologist, an adult oncologist, and a surgical oncologist (all with melanoma expertise); a pediatric surgeon, a pediatric dermatologist, a pediatric radiologist, a pathologist, and a nursing team, which includes a pediatric nurse practitioner, three registered nurses, and other support staff, including those that provide genetic counseling and child life specialists. To be eligible for the clinic, which typically is scheduled in April and November every year, patients must be no older than 21 years, must be referred by a physician, and must have a diagnosis of melanoma or Spitzoid melanoma, not including ocular melanoma. They must be currently undergoing treatment or followed by a physician who requests or supports a consult to optimize clinical management of the patient. St. Jude foots the bill for all travel, housing, and meal expenses. All pertinent materials are collected in advance of the 2-day clinic, including medical records, lab results, histology slides, tissue samples, and radiographic studies. The pathologist performs an initial review of the histology slides and additional genomic studies are performed based on the pathologist’s diagnosis.

Patients typically arrive on a Wednesday evening and have their first clinic visit Thursday morning. First, the oncology team performs a thorough history and physical examination, then Dr. Wright performs a thorough skin examination and a professional photographer captures images of relevant skin lesions. That afternoon, members of the multidisciplinary team meet to review each patient’s entire course, including previous surgeries and any medical therapies.

“We review their pathology, including histology slides and results of any genomic studies,” Dr. Wright said. “We also review all the radiographic studies they’ve had, which may include plain films, CT scans, PET scans, MRIs, and ultrasounds. Then we form a consensus opinion regarding a diagnosis. Sometimes we feel a change in diagnosis is warranted.” For example, she added, “we have had a number of patients referred to us with an initial diagnosis of Spitzoid melanoma where, after review, we felt that a diagnosis of atypical Spitzoid tumor was more appropriate for them. We also talk about any treatment they’ve had in the past and decide if any additional surgical or medical treatment is indicated at this time. Lastly, we make recommendations for follow-up or surveillance.”

On Thursday evening, the clinic sponsors a casual dinner for families, which features an educational presentation by one or more faculty members. Topics covered in the past include sun protection, melanoma in children, and an overview of melanoma research.

The next morning, each family meets with the panel of specialists. “The team members introduce themselves and describe their roles within the team, and family members introduce themselves and tell their child’s story. “Then, each team member describes their findings and gives their overall assessment. The family receives recommendations for any additional testing, therapy, and follow-up, and the patient and family’s questions are answered.”

Families are also offered the opportunity to participate in research. “They can donate samples to a tissue bank, and patients may qualify for future clinical trials at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital,” Dr. Wright said.

To date, 20 female and 18 male patients have traveled to the Pediatric and Adolescent Melanoma Referral Clinic from 21 states and Puerto Rico for assessment and consultation. They ranged in age from 6 months to 18 years, and their average age is 9 years. Members of the clinic team have seen 13 patients with a diagnosis of Spitzoid melanoma, 10 with malignant melanoma, 8 with atypical melanocytic neoplasm, 3 with congenital melanoma, 3 with atypical Spitz tumor, and 1 with congenital melanocytic nevus.

The median age at diagnosis was 12 years for malignant melanoma and 9 years for Spitzoid melanoma; and the male to female ratio is 7:3 for malignant melanoma and 4:9 for Spitzoid melanoma. These are the patients who have come to the multidisciplinary clinic, these specialists see other patients with a diagnosis of pediatric or adolescent melanoma at other times of the year, Dr. Wright noted.

A common refrain she hears from pediatric melanoma patients and their families is that the initial skin lesion appears to be unremarkable. “Many times, this is a skin-colored or pink papule, which starts out looking very much like a molluscum or a wart or an insect bite, or something else that nobody’s worried about,” Dr. Wright said. “But over time, something happens, and the common factor is rapid growth. Time and again when I ask parents, ‘What changed? What got your attention?’ The answer is nearly always rapid growth.”

She emphasized that patients frequently arrive at the clinic with multiple opinions about their diagnosis. “It’s not unusual for a significant amount of time to pass between the initial biopsy and the final diagnosis,” she said. “Given the lack of evidence-based guidelines for children, a delay in diagnosis can make decisions about management even more difficult. Because pediatric melanoma is so rare, and there are no standard guidelines for management, there’s a major lack of consistency in terms of how patients are evaluated, treated, and followed.”

Dr. Wright said the team’s goals are to continue the biannual clinic and collect more data and tissue samples for further genomic studies on pediatric melanoma. “Ultimately, we would like to hold a consensus summit meeting of experts to develop and publish evidence-based guidelines for the management of pediatric and adolescent melanoma.”

Dr. Wright reported having no relevant disclosures.

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