The group of small cell tumors of the lung includes fine following: (1) small cell carcinoma (SCC) of neuroendocrine (NE) origin, (2) poorly differentiated squamous carcinoma, (3) the rare basaloid (basal cell) carcinomas, and (4) malignant lymphomas, primitive neuroectodermal tumors (PNETs), and rhabdomyosarcomas. The differential diagnosis among these entities carries a heavy therapeutic impact but may be difficult in small biopsy specimens or in cytologic material, especially if necrosis or artifactual alterations are present. The use of additional techniques such as immunostaining for NE markers is not always helpful, since immunoreactive chromogranin A is detectable in only a small percentage of small cell carcinomas. It has recently been reported that in the aerodigestive tract 34betaE12 cytokeratin (CK) immunostaining selectively labels non-NE carcinomas, including squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, and the rare basaloid carcinoma. We evaluated the role of such CK immunodetection in the differential diagnosis of small cell lung tumors in cytologic and biopsy specimens. Eighty-one lung tumors diagnosed by means of endoscopic bronchial biopsy, fine needle aspirate, or bronchial washing were collected. They included 43 small cell NE carcinomas and 38 cases used as controls (comprehensive of 2 large cell neuroendocrine carcinomas, 4 carcinoid tumors, 30 cases of non-NE lung carcinomas, 2 cases of bronchial infiltration by non-Hodgkin lymphomas). 34betaE12 CK immunoreactivity was found in 29/30 cases of non-NE carcinomas, but in only 3/43 SCCs. The latter showed positivity in only a few scattered cells. The 2 cases of bronchial infiltration by malignant lymphoma as well as the 4 cases of carcinoid tumors and the 2 cases of large cell neuroendocrine carcinomas were negative. These findings were confirmed in the surgical specimens of operatedon cases. We conclude that, in lung carcinoma biopsies showing a small cell pattern, presence of 34betaE12 CK immunoreactivity favors a non-NE carcinoma, whereas its absence supports the diagnosis of SCC. Int J Surg Pathol 8(4):317-322, 2000
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