Purpose: An update is provided of the Gleason grading system, which has evolved significantly since its initial description.
Materials and methods: A search was performed using the MEDLINE(R) database and referenced lists of relevant studies to obtain articles concerning changes to the Gleason grading system.
Results: Since the introduction of the Gleason grading system more than 40 years ago many aspects of prostate cancer have changed, including prostate specific antigen testing, transrectal ultrasound guided prostate needle biopsy with greater sampling, immunohistochemistry for basal cells that changed the classification of prostate cancer and new prostate cancer variants. The system was updated at a 2005 consensus conference of international experts in urological pathology, under the auspices of the International Society of Urological Pathology. Gleason score 2-4 should rarely if ever be diagnosed on needle biopsy, certain patterns (ie poorly formed glands) originally considered Gleason pattern 3 are now considered Gleason pattern 4 and all cribriform cancer should be graded pattern 4. The grading of variants and subtypes of acinar adenocarcinoma of the prostate, including cancer with vacuoles, foamy gland carcinoma, ductal adenocarcinoma, pseudohyperplastic carcinoma and small cell carcinoma have also been modified. Other recent issues include reporting secondary patterns of lower and higher grades when present to a limited extent, and commenting on tertiary grade patterns which differ depending on whether the specimen is from needle biopsy or radical prostatectomy. Whereas there is little debate on the definition of tertiary pattern on needle biopsy, this issue is controversial in radical prostatectomy specimens. Although tertiary Gleason patterns are typically added to pathology reports, they are routinely omitted in practice since there is no simple way to incorporate them in predictive nomograms/tables, research studies and patient counseling. Thus, a modified radical prostatectomy Gleason scoring system was recently proposed to incorporate tertiary Gleason patterns in an intuitive fashion. For needle biopsy with different cores showing different grades, the current recommendation is to report the grades of each core separately, whereby the highest grade tumor is selected as the grade of the entire case to determine treatment, regardless of the percent involvement. After the 2005 consensus conference several studies confirmed the superiority of the modified Gleason system as well as its impact on urological practice.
Conclusions: It is remarkable that nearly 40 years after its inception the Gleason grading system remains one of the most powerful prognostic factors for prostate cancer. This system has remained timely because of gradual adaptations by urological pathologists to accommodate the changing practice of medicine.
Copyright 2010 American Urological Association. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.