Neuroectodermal neoplasms of the head and neck with emphasis on neuroendocrine carcinomas

Mod Pathol. 2002 Mar;15(3):264-78. doi: 10.1038/modpathol.3880522.


Tumors exhibiting neuroectodermal differentiation occur throughout the body, and the diverse tissues of the head and neck give rise to a wide assortment of these neoplasms. Neuroectodermal neoplasms may be divided into lesions showing primarily epithelial differentiation (Group I, neuroendocrine carcinomas) and a more diverse group (Group II) of nonepithelial neoplasms. This article reviews these neuroectodermal tumors of the head and neck with emphasis on the neuroendocrine carcinomas and their nomenclature. The author believes that with regard to Group I tumors, the older terminology of carcinoid, atypical carcinoid, and small cell carcinoma should be replaced by subclassifications of well-differentiated, moderately differentiated, and poorly differentiated neuroendocrine carcinoma. The latter category should be further subdivided into small cell and large cell variants. Neuroendocrine carcinomas, particularly the moderately differentiated subtype, are often underdiagnosed in the head and neck region. In the larynx, these tumors are the most common form of nonsquamous carcinoma. Poorly differentiated neuroendocrine carcinoma of small cell type is most common in the salivary glands but can occur elsewhere in the region. The large cell subtype of poorly differentiated neuroendocrine carcinoma has not been well documented in this region. However, the most likely candidate for this tumor category is the so-called sinonasal undifferentiated carcinoma. Group II tumors discussed include olfactory neuroblastoma, malignant melanoma, and Ewing's sarcoma. In addition, differential diagnostic problems related to Group I and II tumors are reviewed in detail. This article reviews and updates our understanding of neuroectodermal neoplasms arising in the head and neck. The focus is on tumors that exclusively involve this region or show a strong predilection to occur here.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Neuroendocrine / classification
  • Carcinoma, Neuroendocrine / pathology*
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / classification
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Terminology as Topic*