Spindle epithelial tumor with thymus-like differentiation: a case report and review of literature

Acta Cytol. 2013;57(3):303-8. doi: 10.1159/000346704. Epub 2013 Apr 25.


Spindle epithelial tumor with thymus-like differentiation (SETTLE) is an extremely rare type of thyroid tumor with fewer than 35 reported cases available in the literature so far, most of them having been diagnosed histologically after resection. The tumor is believed to be derived from branchial-pouch or thymic remnants, occurring in young adults, predominantly in males, with a male:female ratio 1.8:1.

Case: A 14-year-old girl presented with a nodular mass in her right thyroid that had been present for 1 year. Ultrasonological study revealed a heterogeneous solid mass (2.5 × 1.5 × 1.5 cm) in the right lobe of the thyroid. Fine-needle aspiration (FNA) smears were highly cellular and comprised of predominantly dissociated uniform spindle cells with naked oval nuclei along with some aggregates and groups. Occasional islands of epithelial cells were also present. Cytologically, the spindle cells had bland nuclear chromatin, with very scanty mitotic figures. Upon examination of the FNA smears, a provisional diagnosis of SETTLE was suggested along with a request for an incisional biopsy to rule out another differential diagnosis of medullary carcinoma thyroid. On the resected tissue specimen, diagnosis was histologically confirmed to be SETTLE. Immunohistochemical study revealed a strong and diffuse positivity for high-molecular-weight keratin and vimentin, and negativity for thyroglobulin, calcitonin, S-100 protein, desmin, chromogranin and synaptophysin.

Conclusion: Cytologically, SETTLE can safely be considered, especially if spindle elements are observed along with the occasional group of epithelial cells in FNA smears from the thyroid of young adults. It can help in the preoperative recognition of lesions based on distinctive cytomorphological features and immunohistochemical characteristics, allowing a more sound therapeutic approach because these patients can present with delayed metastasis.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Biomarkers, Tumor / analysis
  • Biopsy, Fine-Needle
  • Carcinoma / chemistry
  • Carcinoma / pathology*
  • Carcinoma / surgery
  • Cell Differentiation*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Thymus Gland / pathology*
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / chemistry
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Thyroid Neoplasms / surgery
  • Thyroidectomy


  • Biomarkers, Tumor