Small cell carcinoma of the breast: a clinicopathologic and immunohistochemical study of nine patients

Am J Surg Pathol. 2000 Sep;24(9):1231-8. doi: 10.1097/00000478-200009000-00006.


Small cell carcinoma of the breast is an uncommon neoplasm that has been reported rarely in the literature. The aim of this study was to characterize better the pathologic and immunohistochemical features of this neoplasm. Nine examples of mammary small cell carcinoma were retrieved from the authors' consultation files and reviewed. The patients ranged in age from 43 to 70 years. Two patients had a previous history of cutaneous malignant melanoma and one had prior lobular carcinoma in situ and atypical duct hyperplasia in the same breast as the small cell carcinoma. Eight patients presented with a mass in the breast; one patient had an axillary tumor. Tumor size ranged from 1.3 to 5.0 cm (mean, 2.6 cm). Histologically, the nine tumors had characteristics of small cell carcinoma with high mitotic activity and necrosis. A dimorphic histologic appearance was observed in four tumors. In one instance, this consisted of small cell carcinoma merging with invasive lobular carcinoma. In three cases, small cell carcinoma was present together with invasive, poorly differentiated duct carcinoma; invasive carcinoma with "lobular and gland-forming elements"; and focal squamous differentiation, respectively. Lymphatic tumor emboli were identified in four instances. An in situ component was seen in seven tumors; five were of the small cell type in ducts and two were of the ductal type with high nuclear grade. Immunohistochemical analysis showed consistent staining for cytokeratin markers but variable staining with neuroendocrine markers. Sixty-six percent of the tumors (six of nine) were reactive for chromogranin, synaptophysin, or peptide hormones, including four positive for chromogranin and synaptophysin, one positive for synaptophysin and calcitonin, and one positive for calcitonin alone. One tumor that was reactive for chromogranin and synaptophysin also contained calcitonin immunoreactive cells, whereas gastrin-releasing peptide was present in two other tumors that were also positive for chromogranin. Leu 7 was positive in three cases that were reactive for either chromogranin or synaptophysin. Five tumors were estrogen and progesterone receptor-positive. All tumors were positive for bcl-2 and negative for HER2/neu. Patients were treated by mastectomy (n = 3) or lumpectomy (n = 6). Eight underwent an axillary dissection that revealed metastatic carcinoma in four patients. Seven patients received adjuvant chemotherapy and four patients received radiation. Two patients also received tamoxifen treatment. Metastases developed in two patients (22%) with a follow-up period of 11 and 32 months. All patients were alive at last follow up 3 to 35 months after treatment. When compared with published reports of mammary small cell carcinoma, our results show that the prognosis in these patients may not be as poor as previously suggested.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Breast Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Breast Neoplasms / therapy
  • Carcinoma, Small Cell / metabolism
  • Carcinoma, Small Cell / pathology*
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Keratins / metabolism
  • Middle Aged
  • Receptors, Estrogen / metabolism


  • Receptors, Estrogen
  • Keratins