Pulmonary carcinomas with pleomorphic, sarcomatoid, or sarcomatous elements: a clinicopathologic and immunohistochemical study of 75 cases

Am J Surg Pathol. 2003 Mar;27(3):311-24. doi: 10.1097/00000478-200303000-00004.


We collected 75 primary pulmonary carcinomas with pleomorphic, sarcomatoid, or sarcomatous elements to better define their clinical, histologic, and immunohistochemical profile. The patient's age ranged from 42 to 81 years (mean 65 years), and the male-to-female ratio was 9.7:1. Sixty-nine patients (92%) were smokers. Cough and hemoptysis were the most frequent presenting symptoms. Fifty-nine patients (65%) died of disease: only stage significantly predicts overall survival (p = 0.0273). Microscopically, based on the WHO criteria, 58 cases were classified as pleomorphic carcinoma (51 with an epithelial component, 7 composed exclusively of spindle and giant cells), 10 as spindle cell carcinoma, 3 as giant cell carcinoma, 3 as carcinosarcoma, and 1 as pulmonary blastoma. Immunohistochemically, in the tumors composed exclusively of spindle and/or giant cells, thyroid transcription factor-1 (TTF-1) and cytokeratin 7 were positive in 55% and 70% of the cases, respectively, whereas surfactant protein-A was always negative. In pleomorphic carcinomas with an epithelial component, cytokeratin 7, TTF-1, and surfactant protein-A were positive in the sarcomatoid component in 62.7%, 43.1%, and 5.9% of the cases, respectively, whereas they were always negative in the sarcomatous part of carcinosarcomas and blastoma. In the epithelial component of pleomorphic carcinomas, cytokeratin 7, TTF-1, and surfactant protein-A were positive in 76.4%, 58.8%, and 39.2% of the cases, respectively, whereas the same antibodies did not react with the epithelial component of carcinosarcomas; in the case of blastoma, the epithelial part of the tumor was positive for cytokeratin 7 and TTF-1, whereas it was negative for surfactant protein-A. Cytokeratin 20 was always negative. In our opinion, this study: 1) supports the metaplastic histogenetic theory for this group of tumors; 2) shows that cytokeratin 7 and TTF-1, but not surfactant protein-A, are useful immunohistochemical markers in this setting; 3) confirms that stage is at the moment the only significant prognostic parameter, as in conventional non-small cell lung carcinomas; and 4) shows that this group of tumors has a worse prognosis than conventional non-small cell lung carcinoma at surgically curable stages I, justifying their segregation as an independent histologic type in the WHO classification.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma / classification
  • Carcinoma / metabolism*
  • Carcinoma / pathology
  • Carcinoma / surgery
  • Carcinosarcoma / classification
  • Carcinosarcoma / metabolism
  • Carcinosarcoma / pathology
  • Carcinosarcoma / surgery
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Intermediate Filament Proteins / metabolism*
  • Keratin-20
  • Keratin-7
  • Keratins / metabolism*
  • Lung Neoplasms / classification
  • Lung Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology
  • Lung Neoplasms / surgery
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nuclear Proteins / metabolism*
  • Prognosis
  • Pulmonary Surfactant-Associated Protein A / metabolism*
  • Survival Rate
  • Thyroid Nuclear Factor 1
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism*


  • Biomarkers, Tumor
  • Intermediate Filament Proteins
  • KRT20 protein, human
  • KRT7 protein, human
  • Keratin-20
  • Keratin-7
  • NKX2-1 protein, human
  • Nuclear Proteins
  • Pulmonary Surfactant-Associated Protein A
  • Thyroid Nuclear Factor 1
  • Transcription Factors
  • Keratins