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January 2014

The Men or Women Behind Nevi: Sophie Spitz

Author Affiliations
  • 1Università degli Studi di Milano, Fondazione IRCCS Ca’ Granda Ospedale Maggiore Policlinico, Milano, Italy

Copyright 2014 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved. Applicable FARS/DFARS Restrictions Apply to Government Use.

JAMA Dermatol. 2014;150(1):24. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2013.8431

An eponym is a person or a thing after which a particular place, object, discovery, disease, syndrome, and so forth, is named. In the field of medicine, and especially in dermatology, many eponyms are used, and physicians often do not know who is the man or woman behind them.

The woman behind “Spitz nevus” was a pathologist, Sophie Spitz,1 who first described this lesion in 1948 as juvenile melanoma or melanoma of childhood. Spitz, in fact, noticed that the cytologic characteristics of this nevus were identical to those of melanoma; nevertheless, the lesion’s behavior was, in general, benign. Spitz was born in 1910 in Nashville, Tennessee, in a German Jewish family. When she was young, she had a passion for music and especially for the violin. She got her medical degree at Vanderbilt University in 1932 and started working with Dr George Papanicolaou; 10 years later she married Arthur Allen, another pathologist. During her career, she became an expert in tropical medicine and in melanocytic nevi. Because she was affected by familial polyposis, in 1956 she experienced an untimely death from colon cancer, before her eponym was popular. Only after her death, in fact, did the discussion about the term and the real entity of Spitz nevus or juvenile melanoma start.

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