This article reports on the sensitivity and positive predictive value of clinical diagnosis of benign and malignant skin tumors by expert plastic surgeons in an Israeli clinic. Most published reports have focused on the sensitivity of clinicians' diagnoses, a general measure of the physician's skill that does not predict the rate of accuracy of a physician's diagnoses. Our study of 835 lesions in 778 patients, one of the largest Israeli series, assesses the clinical diagnosis of malignant and benign skin tumors and is one of the few that provide information on the positive predictive value, the measure that is of interest to both physicians and patients. The majority of tumors were benign (56.8 percent), 31.6 percent were malignant, and 11.6 percent were premalignant. Among the 474 benign lesions, 46 percent were nevi. The most common nevi subclass was compound nevi (53 percent), 9 percent of the nevi were dysplastic, and 5 percent were blue nevi. The most common malignant tumor was basal cell carcinoma, accounting for 78 percent of malignant tumors. Although sensitivity for clinical diagnosis of malignancy was 91.3 percent, the positive predictive value for clinical diagnosis of malignancy was 71.3 percent. The sensitivity rate for clinically diagnosing premalignant tumors was 42.3 percent, whereas the positive predictive value for these diagnoses was higher (64.1 percent). The sensitivity rate for diagnosis of all benign lesions was 85.9 percent, and the positive predictive value was 94.2 percent. The sensitivity rate for diagnosis of all nevi was 87.6 percent, and the positive predictive value was 85.7 percent: i.e., only seven of the 218 pathologically proven diagnoses of nevi (3.2 percent) were falsely diagnosed as malignant lesions. Even more interestingly, five of the 223 clinical diagnoses of nevi (2.2 percent) were pathologically proven to be malignant melanomas, and seven were found to be premalignant lesions (3.1 percent). It was concluded that publications which report only on the sensitivity neglect to provide information of interest regarding the positive predictive value. Often, positive predictive value is qualitatively different from the sensitivity, and thus relying only on the sensitivity may lead to incorrect evaluation of a clinical judgment, which may result in erroneous surgical decisions.
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