Indexed on: 19 Jun '18Published on: 19 Jun '18Published in: Journal of the National Cancer Institute
Two primary histologic subtypes, superficial spreading melanoma (SSM) and nodular melanoma (NM), comprise the majority of all cutaneous melanomas. NM is associated with worse outcomes, which have been attributed to increased thickness at presentation, and it is widely expected that NM and SSM would exhibit similar behavior once metastasized. Herein, we tested the hypothesis that primary histologic subtype is an independent predictor of survival and may impact response to treatment in the metastatic setting. We examined the most recent Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) cohort (n = 118 508) and the New York University (NYU) cohort (n = 1621) with available protocol-driven follow-up. Outcomes specified by primary histology were studied in both the primary and metastatic settings with respect to BRAF-targeted therapy and immunotherapy. We characterized known driver mutations and examined a 140-gene panel in a subset of NM and SSM cases using next-generation sequencing. All statistical tests were two-sided. NM was an independent risk factor for death in both the SEER (hazard ratio [HR] = 1.55, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 1.41 to 1.70, P < .001) and NYU (HR = 1.47, 95% CI = 1.05, 2.07, P = .03) cohorts, controlling for thickness, ulceration, stage, and other variables. In the metastatic setting, NM remained an independent risk factor for death upon treatment with BRAF-targeted therapy (HR = 3.33, 95% CI = 1.06 to 10.47, P = .04) but showed no statistically significant difference with immune checkpoint inhibition. NM was associated with a higher rate of NRAS mutation (P < .001), and high-throughput sequencing revealed NM-specific genomic alterations in NOTCH4, ANK3, and ZNF560, which were independently validated. Our data reveal distinct clinical and biological differences between NM and SSM that support revisiting the prognostic and predictive impact of primary histology subtype in the management of cutaneous melanoma.