Sarcomatoid mesothelioma and its histological mimics: a comparative immunohistochemical study

Histopathology. 2003 Mar;42(3):270-9. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-2559.2003.01583.x.


Aims: Differentiating sarcomatoid mesothelioma from other pleural-based spindle cell tumours by light microscopy can be challenging, especially in a biopsy. The role of immunohistochemistry in this differential diagnosis is not as well defined as it is for distinguishing epithelioid mesothelioma from adenocarcinoma. In this study, we investigate the utility of diagnostic immunohistochemistry for distinguishing sarcomatoid mesothelioma from its histological mimics, high-grade sarcoma and pulmonary sarcomatoid carcinoma.

Methods: We stained 20 mesotheliomas with sarcomatoid components (10 biphasic and 10 sarcomatoid mesotheliomas) for pan-cytokeratin, cytokeratin 5/6, calretinin, WT-1, thrombomodulin, and smooth muscle actin. Intensity and distribution of staining were assessed using a semiquantitative scale. Only tumours with unequivocal staining were considered positive for tabulation. We compared the immunophenotypic profiles of these tumours with 24 high-grade sarcomas, 10 pulmonary sarcomatoid carcinomas, and 16 epithelioid mesotheliomas. The sarcomatoid carcinomas were also stained for thyroid transcription factor-1 (TTF-1).

Results: Pan-cytokeratin stained 70% of sarcomatoid mesotheliomas, 17% of sarcomas, 90% of sarcomatoid carcinomas, and 100% of epithelioid mesotheliomas. Cytokeratin 5/6 and WT-1 stained most epithelioid mesotheliomas, but rarely stained sarcomas, sarcomatoid carcinomas, or the sarcomatoid components of mesothelioma. Calretinin and thrombomodulin each stained 70% of sarcomatoid mesotheliomas. However, calretinin was also positive in 17% of sarcomas and in 60% of sarcomatoid carcinomas, while thrombomodulin was positive in 38% of sarcomas and in 40% of sarcomatoid carcinomas. Smooth muscle actin was expressed in 60% of sarcomatoid mesotheliomas and in 58% of sarcomas, but in only 10% of sarcomatoid carcinomas. All 10 sarcomatoid carcinomas were negative for TTF-1.

Conclusions: Mesothelioma shows decreased expression of epithelial and mesothelial epitopes in its sarcomatoid components. A wide immunophenotypic overlap exists among sarcomatoid mesotheliomas, sarcoma, and sarcomatoid carcinomas. Cytokeratin and calretinin have the most value in differentiating sarcomatoid mesothelioma from sarcoma. However, because sarcomatoid mesothelioma can occasionally be cytokeratin-negative, the distinction between it and sarcoma may become arbitrary. With the exception of smooth muscle actin, all the markers studied showed similar distributions in sarcomatoid mesothelioma and sarcomatoid carcinoma, including frequent calretinin and thrombomodulin expression in both tumours. Thus, immunohistochemistry plays a more limited role in the differential diagnosis of sarcomatoid tumours compared with epithelioid tumours. For sarcomatoid tumours involving the pleural lining, clinicopathological data, especially information about the gross appearance of the tumour (i.e. localized versus diffuse pleural-based mass), should be noted and carefully correlated with microscopic and immunohistochemical findings.

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers, Tumor / metabolism
  • Carcinosarcoma / pathology
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Lung Neoplasms / metabolism*
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology
  • Lung Neoplasms / surgery
  • Mesothelioma / metabolism*
  • Mesothelioma / pathology
  • Mesothelioma / surgery
  • Sarcoma / metabolism*
  • Sarcoma / pathology
  • Sarcoma / surgery


  • Biomarkers, Tumor