Purpose: This study was designed to review experience with neuroendocrine carcinomas of the colon and rectum at a single institution, with emphasis on the pathology and clinical characteristics of this uncommon malignancy.
Methods: A study group of patients was identified from a prospective colorectal service database. Pathology was reviewed and neuroendocrine tumors were classified by a single pathologist. Medical records were retrospectively reviewed.
Results: From March 1975 to September 1998, 38 patients with neuroendocrine carcinomas were identified from the colorectal service database comprising 6495 patients (0.6 percent). These neuroendocrine carcinomas did not include carcinoid tumors. Average patient age was 57 years (range, 29-86 years). There were 17 males (44.7 percent) and 21 females (55.3 percent). Tumors were located as follows: 17 colon, 14 rectum, 6 anal canal, and 1 appendix. The diagnosis of neuroendocrine carcinoma was suggested preoperatively from tissue biopsy in 59.3 percent (16/27) of patients evaluable. Pathology was reviewed and tumors were categorized as small cell carcinoma (n = 22) or large cell neuroendocrine carcinoma (n = 16). Most tumors (20/25 evaluable, 80 percent) stained positive by means of immunohistochemistry for neuroendocrine markers, including chromogranin (18/19), synaptophysin (10/15), and/or neuron-specific enolase (14/15). Metastatic disease was detected at the time of diagnosis in 69.4 percent of the patients (25/36). Tumors were advanced at the time of diagnosis, with American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) Stage I (n = 6), Stage III (n = 7), and Stage IV (n = 25) tumors. As a group, these tumors had a poor prognosis, with a median survival of 10.4 months. One-year, two-year, and three-year survival was 46 percent, 26 percent, and 13 percent, respectively. There was no significant difference in survival based on pathologic subtypes. Median follow-up time was 9.4 months (range, 0.6-263.7 months).
Conclusions: Neuroendocrine carcinomas of the colon and rectum are uncommon, comprising less than 1 percent of colon and rectal cancers. Pathologically, these tumors are poorly differentiated carcinomas with distinctive cytoarchitectural features and are often immunoreactive for markers of neuroendocrine differentiation. The prognosis for high-grade neuroendocrine carcinomas is poor, as most patients have metastatic disease at the time of diagnosis.