Dermatofibrosarcoma Protuberans: Is Mohs Surgery Truly Superior? And the Success of Tyrosine Kinase Inhibitors

December 2014 | Volume 13 | Issue 12 | Original Article | 1474 | Copyright © December 2014

Joseph R. Kallini MDa and Amor Khachemoune MD FAADb

aDepartment of Dermatology, Saint Louis University, Saint Louis, MO
bDepartment of Dermatology, State University of New York, Downstate Medical Center; Dermatology Service,
Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Brooklyn, NY

Dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans is a rare, slow growing tumor. This growth occurs most frequently in males from ages 20 to 50. The most common area on which DFSP originates is the trunk. DFSP presents clinically as a pink nodule or as a firm, flesh-colored to brown, indurated and exophytic plaque. Pathology shows atypical spindle cells of fibroblast origin surrounding a core of collagen. The definitive treatment of DFSP is surgical excision. Imatinib is a tyrosine kinase inhibitor that has been approved for use in DFSP refractory to surgery.

J Drugs Dermatol. 2014;13(12):1474-1477.


Dermatofibrosarcoma protuberans (DFSP) is rare tumor. DFSP only represents 1-2% of all soft tissue sarcomas.1 The overall incidence of DFSP ranges from 0.8 per million to 5 per million. The Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program, overseen by the National Cancer Institute, reports 4.2 per million. This tumor can take months to years to grow. As a result, definitive diagnosis is usually delayed. The tumor is usually freely mobile, although some may be found adherent to the underlying periosteum or fascia. In this review, we summarize the salient features of this condition and outline novel treatment approaches, including medical therapy with tyrosine kinase inhibition.

Brief Overview

DFSP occurs most frequently at the age ranges of 20 to 50. The most common area on which DFSP originates is the trunk (50- 60%), followed by proximal extremities (20-30%), and the head and neck (10-15%). It is more common in males. DFSP often mimics a scar in presentation. DFSP presents as a pink nodule which may occasionally ulcerate. It also presents as a firm, flesh-colored to brown plaque (Figures 1 and 2). These may become highly indurated and exophytic. These tumors rarely metastasize, but they are locally aggressive.1
The differential diagnosis includes atypical fibroxanthoma, dermatofibroma, fibrosarcoma, and nodular fasciitis. DFSP can be differentiated from fibrosarcomas in that they are usually shallower in depth and have less cytologic atypia. Fibrosarcomas also may contain mucinous stroma with multinucleated giant cells, unlike DFSP. In addition, DFSP is positive for CD34 immunohistochemical stains, while dermatofibroma is positive for coagulation factor XIIIa. Atypical fibroxanthomas are usually more pleomorphic and less infiltrative than DFSP. Furthermore, multinucleated giant cells and solar elastosis can be found in fibroxanthomas but not in DFSP. The pigmented variant, also known as Bednar tumor, is composed of spindle cells with melanin-containing dendritic cells. This only represents 1% of all DFSP subtypes. The myxoid subtype has a myxoid stromal pattern with multinodular growth and numerous blood vessels. The giant cell fibroblastoma subtype of DFSP appears similar to the pigmented variant, but with myxoid stroma and pseudo- vascular spaces containing multinucleated giant cells. This occurs mostly in children. The fibrosarcomatous subtype is a low-grade form with interspersed cellular atypia and increased mitoses. Interestingly, the fibrosarcomatous foci are either weakly staining for CD34 or are CD34 negative, while the areas not containing cellular atypia (more representative of classic DFSP) are CD34 positive.2 Pathology shows atypical spindle cells of fibroblast origin surrounding a core of collagen.3

Treatment Options

Excision: Mohs surgery versus standard excision
The definitive treatment of DFSP is surgical excision.1 Wide local excision with 3-centimeter margins yields less recurrence than simple excision. Nevertheless, wide local excision still has about a 20% recurrence rate. Common practice is to perform deeper excisions containing subcutaneous fat, underlying fascia, and even periosteum and bone. The recommended margin is 2 to 3 centimeters. To date, a handful of studies have reported the outcomes of patients with various excisional margins, as summarized in Table 1.2, 4-17 Mohs micrographic surgery has also been used for the surgical treatment of DFSP. Due to the precise and real-time tumor mapping of this technique, maximal tissue sparing can be achieved. Furthermore, this technique is more likely to yield complete surgical clearance without recurrence, especially since this tumor grows asymmetrically and may have several eccentric projections throughout the dermis. Some trials have demonstrated recur-