Spindle epithelial tumor with thymus-like differentiation: a morphologic, immunohistochemical, and molecular genetic study of 11 cases

Am J Surg Pathol. 2009 Aug;33(8):1179-86. doi: 10.1097/PAS.0b013e31819e61c8.


Spindle epithelial tumor with thymus-like differentiation (SETTLE) is an extremely rare tumor of the thyroid and neck, first described by Chan and Rosai. SETTLE is a low-grade malignancy, with potential for late lung, lymph node, and other visceral metastases. The clinicopathologic features of SETTLE overlap significantly with those of synovial sarcoma. Thirteen cases previously diagnosed as "SETTLE" (11 cases) or "malignant neoplasm-SETTLE versus synovial sarcoma" (2 cases), were retrieved. Immunohistochemistry for low-molecular-weight cytokeratins, high-molecular-weight cytokeratins, cytokeratin 7, cytokeratin 20, epithelial membrane antigen, bcl-2, CD34, CD99, CD117, INI-1, and TLE1 were performed. Reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction for the SS18/SSX1 and SS18/SSX2 fusion genes and fluorescent in-situ hybridization for SYT rearrangement was performed. The 11 cases diagnosed, as "SETTLE" were negative for synovial sarcoma-associated fusion genes, whereas the other 2 cases were positive. SETTLE occurred in 7 females and 4 males (7 to 50 y of age, median 13.5 y) and involved the thyroid gland in 10 cases. Clinical follow-up showed 3 patients to be disease-free 7, 10, and 15 years after surgery. One patient had a lymph node metastasis at diagnosis and lung metastases 14 months after diagnosis. SETTLE infiltrated the thyroid, and consisted of a vaguely nodular admixture of fascicular, reticular, hyalinized, and microcystic areas. Spindled zones blended imperceptibly into areas showing epithelial differentiation, in the form of glomeruloid glandular structures, sertoli-like tubules, and small glands, lined by cuboidal to columnar cells. Mitotic activity was very low, necrosis was absent, and pleomorphism was not present. By immunohistochemistry, SETTLE showed extensive expression of high-molecular-weight cytokeratins in 7 of 8 cases (88%). Expression of low-molecular-weight cytokeratins and epithelial membrane antigen was limited, confined to only scattered cells in 7 of 8 (88%), and 4 of 8 (50%) of cases, respectively. Cytokeratin 7 expression was more widespread (7 of 8 cases, 88%). Cytokeratin 20 was negative. Expression of CD99 and bcl-2 was seen in 6 of 8 (75%) and 7 of 8 (88%) cases, respectively. CD117, INI-1, and TLE1 expression was seen in 6 of 8 (75%), 8 of 8 (100%), and 1 of 5 (20%) of cases, respectively. We conclude that traditional morphologic study and a limited panel of ancillary immunostains are sufficient for the distinction of SETTLE from synovial sarcoma in almost all instances. Molecular genetic study may, however, be helpful in selected cases, particularly in limited biopsies.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis*
  • Child
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / pathology
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neoplasms, Glandular and Epithelial / genetics*
  • Neoplasms, Glandular and Epithelial / metabolism
  • Neoplasms, Glandular and Epithelial / pathology*
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Sarcoma, Synovial / pathology
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / genetics*
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Young Adult


  • Biomarkers, Tumor