Ovarian carcinomas, including secondary tumors: diagnostically challenging areas

Mod Pathol. 2005 Feb:18 Suppl 2:S99-111. doi: 10.1038/modpathol.3800312.


The differential diagnosis of ovarian carcinomas, including secondary tumors, remains a challenging task. Mucinous carcinomas of the ovary are rare and can be easily confused with metastatic mucinous carcinomas that may present clinically as a primary ovarian tumor. Most of these originate in the gastrointestinal tract and pancreas. International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) stage is the single most important prognostic factor, and stage I carcinomas have an excellent prognosis; FIGO stage is largely related to the histologic features of the ovarian tumors. Infiltrative stromal invasion proved to be biologically more aggressive than expansile invasion. Metastatic colon cancer is frequent and often simulates ovarian endometrioid adenocarcinoma. Although immunostains for cytokeratins 7 and 20 can be helpful in the differential diagnosis, they should always be interpreted in the light of all clinical information. Occasionally, endometrioid carcinomas may exhibit a microglandular pattern simulating sex cord-stromal tumors. However, typical endometrioid glands, squamous differentiation, or an adenofibroma component are each present in 75% of these tumors whereas immunostains for calretinin and alpha-inhibin are negative. Endometrioid carcinoma of the ovary is associated in 15-20% of the cases with carcinoma of the endometrium. Most of these tumors have a favorable outcome and they most likely represent independent primary carcinomas arising as a result of a Mullerian field effect. Although the criteria for distinguishing metastatic from independent primary carcinomas rely mainly upon conventional clinicopathologic findings, loss of heterozygosity and gene mutation analyses can be helpful. Transitional cell carcinomas are distinguished from undifferentiated carcinomas by the presence of thick, undulating papillae with smooth luminal borders, microspaces, and tumor cells with distinctive 'urothelial' appearance. Krukenberg tumors are metastatic adenocarcinomas traditionally perceived as composed of mucin-filled signet-ring cells associated with a striking proliferation of the ovarian stroma but many variations on this pattern occur.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Base Sequence
  • Colonic Neoplasms / pathology
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins / genetics
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Intermediate Filament Proteins / analysis
  • Keratin-20
  • Keratin-7
  • Keratins / analysis
  • Mutation
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / genetics
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / secondary
  • Prognosis
  • Trans-Activators / genetics
  • beta Catenin
  • ras Proteins / genetics


  • CTNNB1 protein, human
  • Cytoskeletal Proteins
  • Intermediate Filament Proteins
  • KRT20 protein, human
  • KRT7 protein, human
  • Keratin-20
  • Keratin-7
  • Trans-Activators
  • beta Catenin
  • Keratins
  • ras Proteins