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Eosinophils in Mycosis Fungoides: An Uncommon Finding in the Patch and Plaque Stages

Dalton, Scott R. MC, USA*; Chandler, Wells M. MD; Abuzeid, Margaret MC, USA; Hossler, Eric W. MD*,†; Ferringer, Tammie MD*,†; Elston, Dirk M. MD*,†; LeBoit, Philip E. MD§,¶

The American Journal of Dermatopathology: August 2012 - Volume 34 - Issue 6 - p 586–591
doi: 10.1097/DAD.0b013e31823d921b
Original Study

Abstract: Early diagnosis of mycosis fungoides (MF) is one of the most challenging problems in dermatopathology, as the histopathologic features of inflammatory dermatoses and MF may show significant overlap. One criterion used to distinguish early MF (patch stage) from dermatitis, which may be currently underutilized, is the presence of eosinophils. A search was performed for cases with a preoperative diagnosis of MF, cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, or dermatitis, which included 29 cases “diagnostic” for MF, 25 cases “suspicious” for MF, and 55 cases of spongiotic dermatitis. We examined tissue sections blinded to diagnosis to obtain an exact eosinophil count. Twenty-nine cases were diagnostic for MF (12 patch, 9 plaque, and 8 tumor stage). The average eosinophil count for cases diagnostic for patch stage MF was 1 eosinophil in 10 (0.11) sections examined. For plaque MF, there was 1 eosinophil in 5 (0.24) sections examined. All tumor stage MF cases showed abundant eosinophils within each section. Twenty-five cases were suspicious for MF (15 patches, 9 plaques, and 1 folliculotropic). The average eosinophil count for the patch lesions was 1 eosinophil in 4 (0.25) sections examined and 2 eosinophils per section for plaque lesions. Forty-five of 55 cases of spongiotic dermatitis had at least scattered eosinophils (>3) in each section. Twenty-three (47%) had eosinophils around most postcapillary venules. Only 3 of 45 patients (6.6%) with biopsies diagnostic or suspicious for patch or plaque stage MF showed >3 eosinophils per tissue section, whereas 45 of 55 (81.8%) biopsies of spongiotic dermatitis had >3. The presence of eosinophils (>3 per tissue section) is statistically significant in differentiating cases diagnostic or suspicious for patch or plaque stage MF from dermatitis (P < 0.0001). Our data indicate that eosinophils are uncommon in cases of patch and plaque MF. When a pathologist is faced with evaluating a biopsy that lacks some of the criteria used to make the diagnosis of patch stage MF, yet demonstrates >3 eosinophils per tissue section, dermatitis is the likely diagnosis. However, in cases where fewer than 3 eosinophils are present in sections, patch stage MF cannot be excluded.

Departments of *Dermatology

Pathology, Geisinger Medical Center, Danville, PA

Department of Pathology, Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, TX

Departments of §Pathology

Dermatology, University of California, San Francisco, CA.

The opinions or assertions contained herein are the private views of the authors and not to be construed as official or as reflecting the views of the US Army or the Department of Defense.

The authors have no funding or conflicts of interest to disclose.

Reprints: LTC Scott R. Dalton, MC, USA, Department of Dermatology, Geisinger Medical Center, Danville, PA 17821 (e-mail:

© 2012 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.