Intratumoral expression of cyclooxygenase-2 (COX-2) is a negative prognostic marker for patients with cutaneous melanoma

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Because of the well-known heterogeneity of melanomas, prognosis of the disease is often difficult to assess even for lesions classified in similar stages. The aim of this study was to assess the usefulness of COX-2 as a melanoma prognostic marker and to establish an optimum algorithm for analysis of COX-2 expression levels in lesions of interest. Expression of COX-2 was detected immunohistochemically in standard sections of formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded tissue samples of 85 primary melanomas, 36 lymph node metastases, and five skin metastases including 39 cases of paired primary and metastatic lesions obtained from the same patient. Enhanced expression of COX-2 in primary melanomas is an indicator of poorer prognosis. A significant correlation was found between high expression of COX-2 in primary lesions and shorter survival. The enhancement of COX-2 expression is also positively correlated with other prognostic factors such as tumor thickness and infiltration level, ulceration, high mitotic index, more invasive histologic type, vertical growth phase, and lymph node metastasis. On the whole, the results suggest that intratumoral expression of COX-2 is a strong negative prognostic marker for patients with melanoma. Moreover, our work shows that a simple and objective immunohistochemical scoring algorithm involving the determination of only a percentage fraction of positively stained cells is sufficient to obtain the prognostic information.

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